Criminal justice advisory group has first meeting
Efforts to reform the local justice system moved forward Tuesday as the newly formed Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Advisory Council held its first meeting.
The first action of the “interlocal” government council was to elect Clay Bennett as chairman.
Bennett called the meeting “an important juncture” in the criminal justice reform process and in “taking care of our brothers and sisters in a more effective way.”
The council is made up of law enforcement, criminal justice and civic leaders from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma County, Edmond and Midwest City. The council has no legal authority but will steer reforms.
Formed on the recommendation of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber’s Criminal Justice Reform Task Force and the nonprofit Vera Institute of Justice, the council’s creation is seen by many as the most critical step in advancing needed reforms.
One aim is to increase public safety and improve the efficiency of the criminal justice system in Oklahoma County. Another key reform would be to divert more offenders from jail to mental health and addiction treatment, and other alternatives.
A key concern is the Oklahoma County jail, which has faced overpopulation for years, as well as structural problems.
Bennett hinted at possible changes when he spoke of the jail undergoing renovations in the future and also adding new minimum-security facilities specializing in addiction recovery and mental health treatment.
“The jail will be addressed, but it is a part of the overall system issues that we’re attempting to affect,” Bennett said. “But the jail is very much on the table and very much needs to be a central piece of our work.”
Over the past year,
efforts have resulted in the jail population dropping from 2,700 to fewer than 1,900 inmates, officials said.
“I think this group as a whole has made a lot of headway,” Oklahoma County Sheriff P.D. Taylor said.
The council also voted to establish subcommittees to work on various aspects of criminal justice reform.