Average Oklahoma County Jail Population on Downward Trend, but Disparities Still Exist

The average inmate population at the Oklahoma County jail has stayed below 1,700 people for over a year, a downward trend after nearly two decades of populations routinely above 2,000. The decline in numbers is being attributed to diversion programs, collaboration between local judges, changes in state law and dedicated funding to address mental health and substance abuse issues. Tim Tardibono, executive director of the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Advisory Council, also known as CJAC, presented the numbers to Oklahoma County officials during a meeting Thursday. “We have multiple programs focused on how do we divert people from the criminal justice system, and that is why those numbers are so low,” Tardibono said. “Months of their work has made progress.”

Disparities in the jail population still exist, though. Black individuals make up 34% of the jail’s population despite accounting for only about 16% of Oklahoma County’s population, Tardibono said. “Those numbers are still not great,” he said. The jail is still overcrowded, as well. When it was built in the early 1990s, the building was meant to hold 1,200 inmates. And a recent COVID-19 outbreak led to the death of two inmates with previous underlying health conditions and has caused staffing shortages. The pandemic also delayed inmate transfers to state prisons, causing the jail's population to balloon.

The CJAC report notes that some fluctuations were caused by COVID-19, but the average population was still determined to regularly be under 1,700 incarcerated individuals.

Tardibono told officials that funding through MAPS 4, a one-cent sales tax initiative Oklahoma City voters passed in December, would roll in over the next few years and continue to expand diversion options.

MAPS 4 includes $50 million to address homelessness, $40 million for mental health and substance abuse services and $17 million for a Diversion Hub. Read more at The Oklahoman. See the 2019-2020 annual report.

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