Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Advisory Council uarterly Report to Interlocal Partners
For the First uarter of FY 2024 October 2023
Timothy Tardibono, MA, JD, Executive Director
TABLE OF CONTENTS 3 Background
Visits to modern jails highlight innovation in design and partnerships
New study measures progress in Oklahoma County Justice System
New videos showcase the benefits of fair chance hiring
CJAC & Diversion Hub win DOJ diversion grant
MEMBERS OF THE OKLAHOMA COUNTY CRIMINAL JUSTICE ADVISORY COUNCIL
In response to the growing concerns about chronic overcrowding in Oklahoma County’s jail facility, the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber announced the creation of a special task force to evaluate Oklahoma County’s criminal justice system in December 2015. With collaboration and input from a diverse group of community members, the Chamber contracted with the Vera Institute of Justice to complete an initial analysis and make recommendations for reform of the Oklahoma County criminal justice system. Vera released their recommendations in December 2016. As a central recommendation of the report, an inter-local agreement between Oklahoma County, the City of Oklahoma City, the City of Edmond and the City of Midwest City created the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Advisory Council (CJAC) in November 2017. The Advisory Council continued to evolve with the hiring of a full-time executive director in February 2018 to provide support to the CJAC’s efforts. The creation of this permanent oversight body is key to implementing the proposed criminal justice reforms which can be summarized in these six key recommendations:
Clay Bennett , Chairperson
Tony Tyler , Vice-Chairperson (First Community Representative)
Sue Ann Arnall , Second Community Representative
Judge Don Andrews , Presiding Judge of Oklahoma County District Court
Vicki Behenna , District Attorney of Oklahoma County
Craig Freeman , City Manager of Oklahoma City
Brandi Garner , CEO of the Oklahoma County Detention Center Christy Gillenwater , President and CEO of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber
• Create oversight and accountability mechanisms for the local justice system.
Wade Gourley , Chief of Police of Oklahoma City
Judge Philippa James , Presiding Judge of Oklahoma City Municipal Court
• Reduce jail admissions for municipal violations and low- level misdemeanors.
Tommie Johnson III , Oklahoma County Sheriff
• Create a fair and efficient pretrial release process that safely reduces unnecessary pretrial incarceration.
Rev. Theodis Manning Sr. , Fourth Community Representative Brian Maughan , Commissioner, Board of Oklahoma County Commissioners
• Identify and address district court case processing delays that increase jail admissions and length of stay.
Robert Ravitz , Oklahoma County Public Defender
• Expand meaningful diversion program options, focusing on those with mental illness and substance abuse disorders.
Scot Rigby , City Manager of Edmond
Carrie Slatton-Hodges , Commissioner of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services
• Reduce the impact of justice system fines and fees as a driver of jail growth and recidivism.
Dan Straughan , Third Community Representative
Although each of the six recommendations carries numerous challenges and barriers to improvement, the good news is that because of the cooperative effort of the Advisory Council’s stakeholders, progress continues to be made on all six recommendations.
LaShawn Thompson , Court Administrator of Oklahoma City Municipal Court
Rick Warren , Court Clerk of Oklahoma County
Amy K. Simpson , Secretary
Cole Marshall , General Counsel, McAfee & Taft
NEW STUDY MEASURES PROGRESS IN OKLAHOMA COUNTY JUSTICE SYSTEM
analyze data from the detention center, review state statutes and agency policies and interview numerous system stakeholders. CJI assists agency leaders and practitioners in developing and implementing effective justice system policies that achieve better outcomes and build stronger, safer communities. CJI works with local, state, tribal and national justice organizations to provide nonpartisan policy analysis, implementation consulting, capacity-building assistance and research services to advance evidence-based practices and create systems-level change. The result of this assessment included seven findings about the county’s criminal justice system identified within this report. Overall, the county has achieved its primary goal of reducing its population to address overcrowding, as the population has decreased 46% since 2015. The new study provides a current roadmap to continue the reform work in the next few years.
Data Review by CJI:
CJI began its study with a review of data. CJI noted that their data assessment and analysis was more robust than the Vera Institute report data section due to greater data availability and upgraded agency data systems, including the jail’s data system. CJI found that from July 1, 2015, to July 1, 2022, the jail’s population reduced by 37% from 2,414 to 1,523.
In 2016, the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber in collaboration with community leaders created the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Reform Task Force to assess the county’s criminal justice system and make recommendations to safely reduce the jail population and create a more effective justice system. The assessment, conducted by the Vera Institute of Justice, culminated in six recommendations for the county to responsibly reduce the jail’s population and promote public safety. Those six recommendations – found on page 3 of this report – have been the guiding light for justice reform efforts for the last five years. Last year, CJAC requested a follow-up study to identify which recommendations the county has and has not fully implemented as well as what further improvements in the system are necessary to achieve the Task Force’s goals. To conduct this analysis, CJAC sought assistance from the Crime and Justice Institute (CJI) to
The study also found that between 2015 and 2022, both the number of unique individuals booked into the jail and total admissions decreased by more than 40%.
EXPANDED DIVERSION PROGRAMS
Progress in Oklahoma County reform:
Of the six Vera Institute recommendations, CJI found progress on some while more work is needed on others.
The first recommendation, to create oversight and accountability mechanisms for the local justice system, was accomplished through the creation and continued operation of CJAC. The study found that CJAC’s work served to provide increased transparency and accountability while facilitating collaboration among county justice system agencies and partners. The second recommendation, to reduce jail admissions for municipal violations and low-level misdemeanors, resulted in drastic improvement, as the arrests due to municipal charges dropped dramatically from 32% to 14%. Correlated to that figure, the OKC Police Department, the jail’s biggest customer, has increased their utilization of cite-and-release by 61% since 2015.
and recidivism. The study showed a dramatic decrease in those jailed only for fines and fees. The study found that less than 1.5% of jail admissions in 2022 were due to unpaid fines and fees. CJAC championed a new law passed last year by the Oklahoma Legislature that goes into effect this November that will further reduce the number of those types of warrants that result in arrest and time in jail.
More work to be done:
The third recommendation – to create a fair and efficient pretrial release process that safely reduces unnecessary pretrial incarceration – saw no change from the Vera Institute study. The pretrial population for the Vera Institute study was 84% and there was no change in 2023. The CJI study pointed toward a new goal of 71% which would match the national average. The fourth recommendation, to identify and address district court case processing delays that increase jail admissions and length of stay, had mixed results. Although the length of stay decreased for those released within the first 48 hours, for those staying past 48 hours the length of stay was stagnant. Also, although counsel is now involved in the detainees’ initial court appearance, the ability for attorneys to physically see
Significant progress has also been made on recommendations five and six:
The fifth recommendation, to expand meaningful diversion program options, focusing on those with mental illness and substance use disorder, was accomplished by significantly increasing access to diversion programs in Oklahoma County. Additionally, diversion program participants are identified earlier in the criminal justice process, making them eligible for a broader continuum of diversion programming. The sixth recommendation was to reduce the impact of justice system fines and fees as a driver of jail growth
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their clients at the jail is still hindered by staffing and infrastructure challenges. These challenges are top of mind in the new jail design. The study highlighted several aspects of the fourth recommendation that had not been addressed, including: an outdated notification process for filed charges, the absence of a formal system to expedite cases, and the lack of a system-wide electronic court notification reminder system. The report also noted that a previously unfulfilled recommendation was recently achieved through a warrant clearance event, allowing over 180 Oklahoma County residents to resolve outstanding warrants, potentially preventing their arrest for minor offenses. Fortunately, the new District Attorney is aware of these unaddressed recommendations and is working with other justice system stakeholders to create new strategies to address these concerns.
race and other outcomes that are still valid and should be adopted across justice system stakeholders.
Another new recommendation is to create strict deadlines and review points throughout the court process to ensure individuals are not detained longer than necessary. Work on this recommendation could include: ensuring criminal history information is available early in the process to pretrial release decision-makers, including judges; developing a risk assessment that considers public safety and flight risk; determining at what points in the court process, after initial appearance, can reviews occur to reconsider release eligibility, need or the bond amount adjustment; and setting up a system to review bond-setting circumstances where the bond is not set in cases where someone is being held for a violation or warrant from another county.
In concluding the study, CJI noted:
New 2023 CJI Recommendations
“Since 2015, the Oklahoma County jail population has undergone a steep decline, from over 2,500 to now just over 1,550 people. Local stakeholders from across both the justice arena and general community have committed themselves to nurturing a safer, more fair criminal justice system so that Oklahoma County is a better place to live for all its residents. It is critical that this commitment and momentum endure, as the county looks to build on its recent strides and continue to improve its local policies and practices. After all, there is still work to do to fully implement the recommendations made in 2016. The last seven years have demonstrated that Oklahoma County stakeholders can and will address the challenges they face with the required determination to succeed.” CJAC formally accepted the study at a recent board meeting and is already developing plans to implement the recommendations. CJAC is grateful for the diligent work of the CJI research team that visited Oklahoma County on multiple occasions led by Molly Robustelli, Dr. Shannon Streisel and Yasmin Erikkson. To see the full report and related presentation slides, visit the CJAC website at okcountycjac.com/reports.
The scope of CJI’s study was not only to review the past recommendations but to also make new recommendations for CJAC’s work in the next few years. The study reported that racial disparities in the jail population did not improve. While the total number of African Americans in the jail decreased from 2015 to 2023, the percentage of African Americans in the jail actually increased proportionally, while other demographic groups decreased. The study noted that although national standards have not advanced a clear solution to address this nationwide problem, the best practice is to create a robust data tracking system on racial demographics. Such data tracking will provide justice system agencies and partners the opportunity to analyze and report on trends. CJI suggested that the Oklahoma County justice system should develop a streamlined process to share racial demographic data among multiple stakeholders. This recommendation includes the county’s pretrial services and conditional bond release agency, since it currently has not adopted a formal way to track and report racial demographics. CJI noted that the Vera Institute study provided a list of key data indicators for
A $1.6 million federal grant will allow CJAC and Diversion Hub to expand substance use treatment for an additional 500 people. CJAC & DIVERSION HUB WIN DOJ DIVERSION GRANT The U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs recently awarded the Comprehensive Opioid Stimulant and Substance Use Site-based Program (COSSUP) grant to CJAC and the Diversion Hub. The grant will fund the expansion of the Diversion Hub’s fledgling Misdemeanor Diversion Program to serve more than 500 new cases. The project aims to reduce justice involvement and correlated overdose risk for the misdemeanor population through the delivery of social and treatment services as well as the development of data-driven responses to gaps in services. The Diversion Hub will provide case management to increase the service capacity of the program, while also using data collection and analysis to find more eligible participants. A third grant partner, Catalyst Behavioral Services, will provide both in-patient and out-patient behavioral health services as well as on-site provision of Medication Assisted Treatment and Peer Recovery Support services.
partnership role in winning grants with our justice system partners. With this major grant award, we will make a significant impact in treatment delivery to expand diversion opportunities for justice involved individuals.” “We are thrilled that this grant will allow us to reach more Oklahomans,” said Meagan Taylor, Diversion Hub Executive Director. “With these funds, we expect to support at least an additional 1,000 community members facing substance abuse and mental illness challenges.”
Timothy Tardibono shared his excitement on the grant award, “CJAC has been positioning itself to play a
VISITS TO MODERN JAILS HIGHLIGHT INNOVATION IN DESIGN AND PARTNERSHIPS
In the ongoing process of planning and selecting a site for the new Oklahoma County Detention Center (OCDC), the recently appointed architects from HOK organized tours of two modern jails in Nashville and Wichita Falls. These visits were instrumental in shaping the vision for the new detention center and honed in on key elements that are needed in the new facility: 1. Ample natural light: The incorporation of natural light in the resident pods and behavioral health center promotes a healthier environment. 2. Direct Supervision pod design: This creates pods that encourage positive resident behavior by providing access to programming and minimizing time spent in cells. 3. Secured outdoor areas: Allows residents access to secure outdoor spaces directly from their pods, enhancing their overall well-being. 4. Specialized medical/behavioral health care: By designing dedicated spaces tailored for medical and behavioral health care services, it ensures specialized and efficient support. 5. Improved staff working conditions: Focus on creating a better work environment for the staff, recognizing their crucial role in the facility’s operation.
These visits offered valuable insights, especially from the Davidson County detention center in Nashville, where innovative approaches to justice-related services were observed. Notably, the partnership between Davidson County and the City of Nashville in resource sharing resulted in streamlined services, and the detention center incorporated designated areas for the DA’s office, defense attorneys and magistrates. This model expedited diversion program decisions – a crucial aspect mirrored in OCDC’s design considerations. Looking ahead, the Citizen’s Bond Oversight Advisory Board, responsible for overseeing jail construction, will collaborate with the chosen construction company and the architect. Their immediate focus will be the construction of the new medical and behavioral health center, driven by the urgency of meeting the December 2024 deadline for federal funding encumbrance. Throughout 2023 and 2024, the advisory board will maintain active engagement, providing guidance to architects and construction managers. The advisory board will also make necessary recommendations to the Board of County Commissioners. This collaborative effort ensures a comprehensive and forward-thinking approach to the development of the new detention center, incorporating the best practices observed during these informative site visits.
Recently, the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Advisory Council (CJAC) released a series of new videos highlighting fair or second chance hiring, a practice where employers hire individuals with justice- involved backgrounds. Studies show that, compared to the general workforce, justice-involved individuals have lower turnover rates, lower absenteeism and higher retention rates. Those advantages allow businesses to control operational overhead while continuing to grow and be successful. NEW VIDEOS SHOWCASE THE BENEFITS OF FAIR CHANCE HIRING
The videos spotlight employers in central Oklahoma that are becoming a fair-chance employer by offering equal employment opportunities to justice- involved individuals. They are: Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma (RFBO), Diversion Hub and Oklahoma County Treatment Courts. For some job seekers, the journey begins with CJAC partner OKC Metro Alliance. Its Firstep program provides recovery services and prepares clients to successfully re-enter the workforce. OKC Metro Alliance collaborates with RFBO, which runs one of the largest warehouses in Oklahoma City. Fair chance employees handle various tasks from forklift operation to food distribution preparation as well as supervision and management roles.
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The Diversion Hub and Oklahoma County Treatment Courts lead by example, employing several fair chance individuals who, in turn, give back to the programs that helped transition them out of the justice system and into a healthier lifestyle. One employee said, “I have a lot of pride in my work and a lot of pride in myself as a person. And it has a lot to do with my job. It’s huge. People like me who come from bad backgrounds, we’re going to work harder than most people. We’re going to want to show you that we’ve become something different in life.” For employers, embracing the opportunity to hire justice-involved individuals connects businesses with talented and dedicated workers. Numerous studies show that doing so leads to safer communities and stronger economies. Additionally, employers in Oklahoma County that partner with diversion programs gain an added partner to help them manage the justice-involved employee. Most diversion programs have extensive support teams helping the employee with stabilization, sober success strategies and general life support. As one employer said, “It’s almost like the diversion program provides you an extra human resources staffer on your team.” If an employer is interested in learning more about fair chance hiring and our community’s wonderful diversion providers, please contact CJAC staff for further discussions.
To watch the short videos, visit CJAC’s new YouTube page at okcchamber.com/cjac.
The Vera Institute of Justice report in 2016 provided the catalyst for Oklahoma County’s journey of collaboration with municipal partners and community stakeholders to transform the Oklahoma County justice system. CJAC has used the Vera Institute report as its roadmap for the tremendous change that has
occurred. CJI’s 2023 report resets that roadmap for the future, giving CJAC and its Oklahoma County justice system partners a thorough assessment of progress and recommendations for future reform. The hard work for CJAC continues with this next phase of system-wide reform.
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