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Jail population continues to fall

EL RENO — The population of the Canadian County Jail is continuing to decline, Sheriff Chris West said this week.
The number of prisoners in the jail was 166 on Monday, and the county has only five prisoners in jails in other counties, he said.
This compares to the early November numbers of 191 total prisoners – with 159 at the county jail and 32 in jails in other counties.
The total prisoner count peaked at 335 in November 2017.
The decline saves taxpayer money.
West decreased this year’s budget request for housing prisoners in other counties to $500,000 from $700,000, and he expects to use far less than that.
West had planned to return one prisoner from the Dewey County jail, but that county’s sheriff, Clay Sander, wanted to keep her because she was cooking for jail.
West was agreeable, as long as Sander wouldn’t charge Canadian County for housing her.
When Sander balked, West replied: “Dude, you’re the one that wants to keep her.”
Sander then agreed to West’s terms.
The county jail primarily holds prisoners awaiting trial.
One reason for the decline in the Canadian County Jail population is that District Court Judge Paul Hesse, who took office in July 2017, modified the standards for bonds.
The new standards allow anyone who lives in Canadian County and is charged with a misdemeanor to be released on their own recognizance.
In addition, the implementation of State Question 780 helped.
It reduced most simple drug possession charges from felonies to misdemeanors.
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 an 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 could 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.
West is pleased about the 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 county can accommodate most of its prisoners in the 194 beds in its jail on an ongoing basis, West noted.

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