While Oklahoma’s overcrowded prisons get most of the attention, nearly all of the important decisions on a criminal case have been made long before a person enters prison. Local law enforcement is responsible for arresting people who break the law and deciding who goes to jail, who receives a citation, and who gets a warning. Local District Attorneys decide who gets charged and how serious those charges are. Local judges and jail officials decide who gets released and who stays in jail as a person waits for their case to be resolved.
Fortunately in the last few years, stakeholders in both Oklahoma County and Tulsa County have begun large-scale projects to study the challenges facing their justice systems and to propose changes aimed at reducing jail populations and making court processes more efficient. The efforts, largely funded and spearheaded by philanthropists in each city, are broad, ambitious, and likely to have deep and positive impacts on the way justice is done in Oklahoma’s two urban counties.
While these efforts should be celebrated, they also raise important questions. Are the issues with our two urban justice systems, as identified by researchers (detailed below), also present in suburban and rural counties? If so, who will champion local justice reform there? As our urban counties embark on their justice reform efforts, Oklahomans must demand that these issues are also addressed for the majority of citizens who live outside Oklahoma and Tulsa counties.
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