Tulsa Jail exceeds population limits
BY JERRY WOFFORD World Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 04, 2012
12/04/12 at 7:33 AM
The Tulsa Jail has been over capacity for several days, leading Tulsa County sheriff's officials to seek ways to reduce that population.
The jail had a population of 1,867 at 6 p.m. Monday, according to the jail roster. The jail was designed to hold 1,714 inmates, said Maj. Shannon Clark, spokesman for the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office.
That "is significantly higher than we want to be," Clark said.
A population over capacity is a problem that ebbs and flows, but the recent high is the highest the jail has seen, Clark said.
More inmates have been streaming into the jail, at least in part due to an increase in outstanding warrant arrests, Clark said. The Tulsa World reported last month that the number of arrests for failing to pay warrants was up 12 percent from 2009, with 2012 on track to possibly exceed the number of arrests in 2011.
"A significant number of people who have been contacted by police have a warrant," Clark said.
Other factors that have led to the current overcrowding include economic factors that put additional stress on people, Clark said.
When the jail surpasses its capacity, Clark said the staff brings in temporary beds called "boats," that sit low to the ground but off the floor, similar to cots. He said inmates still receive services they normally would. But the crowding is still a strain on the staff.
"It does stress the food services division, the medical area," Clark said.
Officials with the sheriff's office have been meeting with District and Municipal court officials to see how they can reduce the number of people in the jail to more manageable levels
"We've set some unprecedented numbers recently and we're trying to look at that," Clark said. "Anybody that has anything to do with process, we're working with them."
That includes special court programs like the Drug and Veterans court and traffic courts, Clark said.
Clark said officials hope "to see if those people would be better in the community working to pay off those fines than in jail."
District Judge Kurt Glassco said the sheriff's office has communicated to him and other judges the population issues they are facing. Glassco said he will be checking his docket to see if he can make any adjustments.
"I'm going to continue to review the ones the sheriff asks me to and review my own between now and Christmas," Glassco said.
But each case will be dependent on the circumstances of the case.
"Most of the folks before me are repeat offenders so I have to be careful," Glassco said. "But I can look at it. Not any violent crimes for sure."
The Oklahoma Department of Corrections, while it has its own staffing issues, has been able to regularly pick up inmates waiting for transfers to state penitentiaries, which helps relieve some of the pressure at the jail, Clark said.
"From time to time we have to notify DOC that we are at capacity and they have to take their inmates," Clark said. "They will take a load of those inmates. They've been real good about responding to that."
However, Glassco said he has had about eight cases where a person has been waiting for months for transfer to Department of Corrections custody. Eight inmates won't alleviate the problems, but across each docket and with judges examining their cases, it could add up.
"You have to do it on a case-by-case basis and that's why it takes too long," Glassco said.
Clark said court officials and judges have been receptive to the problems overcrowding creates in the jail, but he's unsure when the population would be able to ease back down.
"When we have a higher jail population, they have a higher court docket," Clark said. "Everybody has a play in this."
Original Print Headline: Tulsa Jail exceeds population capacity
Jerry Wofford 918-581-8310
The Tulsa Jail, which was designed to hold 1,714 inmates, is seen in an aerial photo. TOM GILBERT / Tulsa World file