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Warrant clearing events spare jobs, benefit economy

Oklahoma County has made truly remarkable strides in criminal justice reform since 2017 after the renowned national nonprofit research organization, the Vera Institute of Justice, analyzed the county’s criminal justice system and found six major areas for improvement.

In the years since the Vera Institute of Justice published its findings, the county has not only implemented changes based on the study’s recommendations but has found innovative ways to collaborate with partner organizations to further spur progress.

While Oklahoma County Detention Center’s population has seen a consistent decline in population size in recent years thanks to the collaborative efforts of Oklahoma County’s treatment courts and diversion programs, Oklahoma County’s beloved Chief Public Defender, the late Robert Ravitz, and several district judges met last year and determined that more could be done to further decrease the jail’s population.

The group determined that by reducing the number of individuals with warrants stemming from low-level offenses, they could prevent arrests which would help keep the jail’s population at a manageable level and save taxpayers money. Last year, Oklahoma County officials concluded that the average first-day cost at the Oklahoma County Detention Center was $211.82 due to expenses incurred during the intake process.

“To accrue the cost of arresting an individual who will likely be released from prison within the next day or few days makes no sense for the individual arrested, the arresting officer who has to bring that individual in, district judges, jail staff or taxpayers,” Ravitz said.

That kind of practical approach was the signature of Ravitz’s approach to the criminal justice system. Costs that the county takes on by arresting low-level offenders with active warrants are slim in comparison to those sustained by the arrestee.

At any given time, about 30,000 individuals in Oklahoma have a warrant out for their arrest. These individuals rarely pose a threat to society. A 2022 study published by the Center for Public Safety Initiatives found that most arrests made across the country are for low-level offenses, including misdemeanors.

Individuals with active warrants face the real possibility of getting arrested at any time and place including their homes, jobs, and during their commute to and from work. The instinct to avoid arrest can deter these individuals from seeking employment or engaging with reporting entities including governmental assistance programs and even hospitals, increasing the risk of unemployment, poverty, and illness.

Since August, three warrant-clearing events have assisted roughly 800 individuals pay fees, get on payment plans, and reset court dates to clear their warrants and avoid arrest. These events take much effort and are only possible thanks to Oklahoma County’s public defenders, the District Attorney’s office, judges, court clerk representatives, diversion program leaders, and other supportive partners.

The county plans to continue hosting warrant clearing events with the next one scheduled to take place from 9 a.m. – 6 p.m., Friday, Feb. 16 at 4205 N. Lincoln Blvd. in Oklahoma City.

This piece first appeared in The Journal Record.


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