Crim­i­nal jus­tice ad­vi­sory group has first meet­ing

The Oklahoman - - FRONT PAGE - Staff Writer jdu­laney@ok­la­ BY JOSH DULANEY

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.

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