A report examining population growth at the Tulsa County Jail and how to address those issues to help reverse the trend was presented to the Tulsa Board of County Commissioners during its management conference meeting on Thursday.
The study, performed by the New York-based criminal justice consulting firm Vera Institute for Justice, used data collected from the jail as well as interviews with numerous stakeholders in Tulsa’s criminal justice system — including law enforcement, prosecutors, court administrators, public defenders, judges and others — to come up with five overarching recommendations to help reduce the jail’s population.
- Reduce admissions and lengths of stay at the jail for lower-level charges
- Create an individualized and risk-based pretrial release process
- Reduce case processing times
- Make diversion programs accessible early in the process for faster access to substance abuse and mental health treatment
- Reduce jail admissions for nonpayment of fines and fees.
The report also contains several sub-recommendations outlining specific ways that local agencies, institutions and groups can achieve those recommendations.
Since 1970, the number of people overall in Tulsa’s jail has increased by more than 380 percent and the number of women in the jail grew by 3,400 percent, the Vera Institute’s report found. The majority of that increase cannot be chalked up to population growth either — the jail incarceration rate for Tulsa County increased by 200 percent since 1970 and 43 percent since the current jail facility, the the David L. Moss Criminal Justice Center, opened in 1999, the report states.
The report also found that the most common charges for people admitted to the jail were drug possession, public intoxication, driving under the influence, failure to pay court costs and domestic assault and battery.
In September, The Frontier reported on the Vera Institute’s findings, though the report had not yet been officially released or publicly presented to the city or county.
On Nov. 29, the Tulsa City Council unanimously approved a resolution supporting implementation of the Vera report’s recommendations.
“The report showed us that there were a lot of people in jail in Tulsa County who did not need to be there and that the population can be reduced without jeopardizing public safety,” Jonathan Brooks, deputy chief of the Tulsa Police Department, was quoted as saying in a media release on the report.
Officials in Tulsa County’s criminal justice system signaled that there is support for the Vera report’s recommendations among stakeholders.
“There is simply not enough government resources to support the continued growth of the jail population. Anyone who looks at this problem objectively understands that,” said Tulsa County District Judge Doug Drummond, who is chief judge of the court’s criminal division and chairs the Tulsa County Criminal Justice Planning and Policy Council, which appointed the committee responsible for the report.
“The recommendations are common sense solutions that can help decrease jail numbers for those nonviolent offenders who do not pose a significant risk to public safety,” Drummond said.
The study, which cost around $125,000, was funded by the Tulsa Board of County Commissioners, The Tulsa Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, the Anne and Henry Zarrow Foundation and the George Kaiser Family Foundation.