Oklahoma Watches and Warnings

Oklahoma legislature to consider bail reform as pretrial jail time keeps people locked up

OKLAHOMA COUNTY - 8 in 10 inmates sitting in the Oklahoma County jail are awaiting trial. Many can't afford bond, leading to overcrowding where safety concerns are a constant issue.

With county jails bursting at the seams across our state, many advocates said something has to change about how we lock up people accused of crimes.

"A huge majority of people in the Oklahoma County jail are on misdemeanor bonds. They cannot afford $100," criminal defense attorney Jacqui Ford said.

Just last month, the chief judge in Oklahoma County ordered the public defender's office to meet with every inmate after one man got lost in the system.

Legislators are grappling with bail reform right now.

A bill that's passed out of committee would give people a bail hearing within 48 hours of arrest.

"A judge can make a determination if they should be released on their own recognizance, or if they are a danger to themselves or others or if it's a violent crime," Rep. Chris Kannady (R) Oklahoma City said.

Some counties aren't waiting on the legislature.

After a federal lawsuit in Tulsa County, judges there are doing video conference typically within two days of arrest.

According to the Oklahoma Policy Institute, pretrial jail time there has been slashed to just over 30 days.

In Oklahoma County, the average wait time is three to four times that.

"If the system is too busy to hear the people in the system, the system is broken," Ford said.

There is some push-back from prosecutors and bondsmen, which may ultimately affect what passes the legislature this session.

"I want to get the people who do this every day together in a room, and let's come up with some ideas, what's going to make the bill better. You have to be smart and look at the causal effect on everybody from law enforcement to the defense side, to prosecution to the judges to our jails," Kannady said.

The deadline to hear the bill on the floor is later this month.

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