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“It’s not even an emergency. It’s desperation,” Thunder owner leads movement to reform jail

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OKLAHOMA CITY - Leaders are teaming up to finally fix years of expensive issues at the Oklahoma County Jail.

The jail was just one of the topics Wednesday, when the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce Criminal Justice Task Force released their recommendations.

Oklahoma City Thunder majority owner Clay Bennett is leading the task force.

"It's not even an emergency. It's desperation," Bennett said. "The objective is to reform the system, fix the jail and, most importantly, take care of our brothers and sisters and the citizens of Oklahoma in a much better way."

A 22-member task force spent a year researching what's broken and how it can be fixed: for starters, keeping low-level offenders out of the jail.

"It's not benefiting us," said Chief Citty. "It's not benefiting the system. It's not benefiting the individuals."

Eighty percent of the inmates come into the Oklahoma County Jail drunk or high.

The biggest factor that determines if they stay or bond out isn't the crime but their ability to pay, to make bail.

"We can't keep doing what we're doing. We can't as a city. We can't as a county. We certainly can't as a state. What we need and what we got, for the first time, is a buy in from the private sector," said Oklahoma County Public Defender Bob Ravitz.

"This time, something good is going to happen," said Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel. "We've been at this a year, and we've just touched the tip of the iceberg."

Whetsel told the task force, when they first started, he had 2,600 inmates in his jail.

A year later, after they've implemented some of the recommendations, and the number of inmates is down 23 percent to about 2,000.

The two largest jails in Oklahoma are the two largest mental health facilities.

We know jail does not solve this problem - it makes it worse.

"I am really excited today that the business community, Clay Bennett, the chamber called for more investment and no more cuts to mental health and substance abuse," said Terri White with the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse.

The task force is refocused now on sustainable solutions for criminal justice.

They've got a website, where you can find details about who's on the task force and their recommendations for change.