Dwindling jail population reduces county costs

EL RENO — The number of inmates Canadian County is holding has declined by more than one-third over the past two years – due to policy changes regarding bonds and costs that inmates pay.
The number peaked at 335 in November 2017. It now averages about 210, Sheriff Chris West said Monday.
The inmate populatin was 191 last week – with 159 at the county jail and 32 in jails in other counties.
The decline saves taxpayers money, and it allows many nonviolent offenders charged with misdemeanors to be at work and with their families instead of awaiting trial in jail, West said.
It also means that the sheriff is not considering asking for an expansion of the 194-bed county jail. That was something he had contemplated before the population decline.
In November 2013, the county opened a 122-bed addition to the 72-bed jail that was built in 1984.
“Even with the addition, we were housing more than 100 inmates at jails in five other counties,” West said. “It was a constant shuffle.”
Now, the average number of inmates housed in other counties is 40.
Canadian County has reduced the number of counties from which it rents space to four, and it is planning to drop to three.
West decreased this year’s budget request for housing prisoners in other counties to

$500,000 from $700,000, and he doesn’t expect to use all of that.

POLICY CHANGES
The county jail primarily holds prisoners awaiting trial.
District Court Judge Paul Hesse, who took office in July 2017, modified the standards for bonds, allowing anyone who lives in Canadian County and is charged with a misdemeanor to be released on their own recognizance.
That resulted in the jail holding fewer prisoners.
In addition, the implementation of State Question 780 in July 2017 also helped.
It reduced most drug possession charges from felonies to misdemeanor.
State Question 780 also changed the threshold for a property crime to be classified as a felony to $1,000 instead of $500.
Another change is that Court Clerk Marie Hirst developed a new approach to how she handles court penalties and fees, West said.
Before, someone awaiting trial who had been released from jail and fell behind on their payments of those costs would be jailed.
Now, Hirst works out an agreement for them to pay as little as $25 a month.
“If someone loses their job and can’t pay a lot toward their costs, they don’t have to go back to jail before their trial,” West said.

JAIL CULTURE
West, a retired state trooper, began with the sheriff’s office as the undersheriff in 2013, and was elected sheriff in 2016—taking office in January 2017.
During his tenure, West has improved the professionalism of the sheriff’s department.
He has worked closely with Undersheriff Kevin Ward, who also is a former state trooper and former
Oklahoma Secretary for Safety and Security.
He also hired Kristie Carter, a former probation and parole officer and executive at the Union City Community Corrections Center, as the jail administrator.
“The jail is any county’s greatest liability,” West said.
“Traditionally, jail administrators were people who worked their way up within a sheriff’s office and had limited training.
“We now have professional leadership with years of experience in the highway patrol and the Department of Corrections and extensive training.”
The sheriff’s office has policies that promote treating inmates with respect.
“We look for people skills in hiring corrections officers,” West said.

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