Representatives of The Bail Project received some sharp pushback from two of Oklahoma County’s district judges and the DA’s office Thursday during the Criminal Justice Advisory Council (CJAC) meeting.
CJAC also heard a positive report about jail numbers trending downward as the time for the turnover from the Sheriff’s office to the Jail Trust approaches.
How the sausage gets made
The Bail Project
The Bail Project is a not-for-profit organization that provides cash bail for people with low incomes. The representatives of the organization provided a range of statistics about pre-trial incarceration.
On any given night over 460,000 people across the country are in jail without having been convicted of a crime, mostly because they can’t afford bail. Nationally, according to the Bail Project, taxpayers spend an estimated $14 billion incarcerating people before trial.
The Bail Project pays bail up to $5,000 for people incarcerated without the ability to make their own bail. They also provide court reminders to help clients make their scheduled appearances, and advocacy and support to participants. The organization maintains comprehensive data on the cases in which they assist.
Two judges and the Chief of Police were skeptical about the project’s outcomes.
The representatives of the Project cited a statistic that persons who are incarcerated without ever making bail end up serving three times longer sentences than those who do make bail.
District Judge Timothy R. Henderson expressed disbelief about that statistic. He questioned the data gathered and presented by the Project, ultimately saying, “I don’t believe it’s true.”
Presiding Judge Ray C. Elliott likewise expressed disbelief. “Not in my court, in 21 years on the bench, has this happened.”
A representative of the Bail Project expressed gratitude that the courts in Oklahoma County do not, it seems, stick with the nationwide trend on this statistic.
A member of the District Attorney’s office cited a case in St. Louis wherein the Bail Project paid the bail for a person arrested on a domestic violence charge. That person left jail and proceeded to murder his estranged partner. Chief of Police Wade Gourley responded that this process is new to the police department and he has to think of worst-case scenarios like this.
The representatives of the Project said that they have adapted their policies to respond to this isolated case.
CJAC Executive Director Tim Tardibono presented a quarterly report on CJAC’s goals and purview. Tardibono said that the daily average number of people incarcerated continues to trend downward. The daily average for 2019 was 1,693 persons in the Jail. January’s daily average was 1,595.
Tardibono pointed out that the jail is still overcrowded, but is showing signs of receding of numbers.
Public Defender Bob Ravitz pointed out that while this trend is a good one, there are still over 150 individuals in the jail having to be housed with three people in a cell.
According to the statistics kept by jail staff, the number of women incarcerated at the jail hovers around the 25% mark.
Broken up by race, black “inmates” continue to make up approximately 35% of the jail population while black people only constitute about 13% of the county’s population.
There is a new Mental Health pod at the jail.
Mark Myers of the Sheriff’s Office explained in a tweet that the 12th floor of the jail housing special units like ICU and mental health is being renovated and reconfigured.
Parts of the jail remain under renovation construction, resulting in the tripling of people in some cells of some pods. When renovations are finished, one hopes that triple-celling will be a thing of the past.
The next scheduled meeting of CJAC is March 19. Tardibono explained that several members have already expressed that they will be unable to attend that meeting, so a quorum is unlikely, meaning that the meeting will likely be canceled.
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