Leaders in central Oklahoma have made significant progress on criminal justice reform in the past few months. In May, Oklahoma County commissioners created the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority. The trust will recommend the most efficient use of resources in the operation, financing and development of jail facilities and in rehabilitation, addiction, mental health and other diversion programs. At the authority’s first meeting, the trustees unanimously nominated Tricia Everest to chair the trust.
The Oklahoma County Jail is maximum-security and a majority of the inmates aren’t being held for violent or dangerous offenses – they are there for lack of another option. Many have mental health issues, drug or alcohol addiction and many are held for failure to pay tickets and fines. In many of these cases, maximum security is risky, ineffective and inappropriate. The annual cost per jail inmate in Oklahoma County is roughly $14,600 – a costly option. As a community, we are finding ways to invest those funds into more effective programs.
One local success story is ReMerge, a diversion program for pregnant women and mothers facing incarceration. Oklahoma incarcerates more women per capita than any other state. ReMerge uses evidence-based treatment and removes barriers so that mothers can care for themselves and their children and break the intergenerational cycle of incarceration and poverty.
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