Roy H. Williams
On Tuesday, June 28, Oklahoma County voters can solve a generational problem by approving a bond issue to replace our jail and do it without raising tax rates. I sincerely believe that now is the right time to do so and that we will have a better and safer criminal justice system when it is finished.
Our community has thrived over the past 30 years because of our investment in ourselves. This is the next step. We simply need to resolve the ongoing crisis in our county jail so that we can move forward as a community.
Facilities alone cannot solve all the problems in our criminal justice system. That’s why the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber formed a task force five years ago to begin assessing what was driving overcrowding in our prison. We learned who was in our prison and why, and began to create solutions to ensure that non-violent offenders and those who could be transferred to diversion and treatment programs were removed from the system. On average, there are 1,000 fewer people in our prison every day than there were before we started. There is still work to be done – and we should all keep the pressure on the system for more improvements.
Counterpoint: New Oklahoma County Jail Won’t Fix Systemic Failures
We have also learned in these five years of work that we cannot fix the current correctional facility or remodel it to support the future we all want for a fair and restorative criminal justice system in Oklahoma County. . A new prison will have purpose-built medical and mental health facilities of appropriate size and resources. The new prison will allow direct surveillance, which will increase the safety of staff and inmates. Importantly, the new prison will allow for the integration of diversion, job training and other programs that are difficult or non-existent due to the current prison design.
The simple fact is that we need a new prison to make our communities safer. The long-term solution to crime is to better intervene at earlier stages to get people to break away from a life of crime. The new prison will do just that.
Several elements of this proposal are important for its success. First, this prison will be designed by experienced prison architects and will be designed to meet American Correctional Association standards. Second, county commissioners, in calling the vote, also called for a Citizens’ Oversight Committee to provide feedback and increased transparency in design and construction. Citizen oversight has been a key element of the success we have had with our MAPS programs, and I commend the Commissioners for taking this approach.
Third, this new prison will be more efficient in addition to being more effective. Experts estimate savings could be as high as $5.2 million per year compared to the current installation. And finally, because of the retirement of the bonds, we can fund these new bonds without increasing our tax rate.
Voting no does absolutely nothing. He leaves in place a dangerous prison that is expensive, both in terms of the lives harmed and the taxpayers’ money it uses.
I call on every voter in Oklahoma County to be part of the solution and support this problem. With a yes vote on Tuesday, June 28, we can immediately begin work on the process of replacing the prison with a building that improves public safety and sets the stage for the restorative justice system that reflects the values and commitment of our community to each other.
Roy H. Williams is president and CEO of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber.