This Grand Life

Random Musings From the Editor’s Desk

By Kirsten


This Tuesday, August 26th, citizens of this county will be asked to decide whether they want to approve a sales tax increase in order to finance a new jail.

I suppose if I were a proper pundit I would exhort citizens to vote a certain way, but that is not my style or my interest.

I don’t pretend to understand the ins and outs of governmental finance. 

And my opinion is probably not going to change the mind of a person who disagrees with it. Polemics primarily appeal to those who agree with them, after all.

The main thing that is important in this and any election, to my mind, is that those who are casting their ballots are aware of the facts. As long as you make your decision in a logical manner based on actual knowledge and not a hysterical knee-jerk, I am certain you are making the right choice for you to make.

This is a highly emotional issue. Most people do not hold prisoners in high esteem, and certainly there are good reasons for that.

There are those who will shout that they want to see all the prisoners executed or housed in tents and fed bread and water. Okay, but are we living in the middle ages? I thought this was 2008.

Surely no reasonable person could suggest execution of people’s children, parents and spouses when some of them might be wrongly imprisoned, non-violent, or worthy of a second chance.

There are those who feel that the county misspent the last time they built a new jail and so should not be allowed another chance. Okay, there is some validity to that statement, but it still leaves us with the problem of what to do with a jail that is breaking health department rules to the point that the state has seen fit to take legal action.

We are left with the present and a looming future.

Most of the people I have talked to about this say that there really is no question that the county has to do something about building a new facility to house convicted prisoners.

The fact, according to State Jail Inspector Don Garrison, is that Delaware County Jail has a capacity of 61, but it generally houses about 80, and at times close to 100.

In 2006 the Oklahoma Health Department issued an Administrative Compliance Order against the jail. If something is not done, the jail will either be closed or the county could be fined up to $10,000 a day for non-compliance. This has morphed into a full-fledged lawsuit, and county officials have said that a “yes” vote to raise the county’s sales tax in order to build the jail would end the lawsuit.

However, Grove would carry most of that burden, and Grove is already the second highest taxed town of its size in Oklahoma. Officials in Grove, including the City Council and the Chamber of Commerce, feel that there could be other ways to finance the jail that have not even been explored yet.

All that’s clear is something has to be done, and a sales tax may or may not be the best way to go, but more research might be in order.

Nationwide, more than one in 100 adults are currently serving time in prison. That translates to almost 1.6 million people.

Oklahoma ranks third in the nation for having the most people incarcerated per capita – behind only Texas and Louisiana.

Delaware County itself is about average for Oklahoma, with 21 people per 10,000 behind bars, according to a Department of Corrections report.

A study done by the Oklahoma Criminal Justice Research Center in September 2006 shows that one of every 12 Oklahoma adults have been in prison or on felony probation. Further, the study shows that the current incarceration rate per adult population is 45 percent higher in Oklahoma than it is for the U.S., and the rate of first admissions to prison is Oklahoma is 47 percent higher than it is for the U.S.

Are we Okies irreparably tainted by our outlaw ancestors? Do we have tougher laws than other states? Are our law enforcement officers more vigilant than those in other states? I don’t know the reason for this disparity. 

However, it seems to me that nationwide, and even more, right here in our own backyard, there is a deeper problem.

No one could argue that there are some people who need to be put away for everyone’s protection – namely murderers, sexual predators, armed robbers, and psychopaths.

But there are also those who would perhaps benefit from something other than being locked up with the above-mentioned criminals. Do non-violent offenders who pose no threat to the public at large really belong in prison?

Personally, I think not. Among other things, people who go into prison as non-violent offenders may not come out that way.

Speaking at a Grove Rotary meeting the other day, State Representative Dr. Doug Cox made another very valid observation:  lots of people are incarcerated for not paying fines or child support, and while they are in jail they are unable to work, which might help them pay off their fines and child support.

We have already taken steps in this county to alleviate some of that problem with programs like Drug Court, but it seems that more could be done.

In the short term it may be necessary to build a new jail, but in the long term it would be wise to question our whole justice system and look for ways to reform the prison system so that only the people who are truly a threat to our safety and well-being are kept there.