April 1 Countywide Election Critical for Solving Jail Woes

Tulsa County Sheriff

On January 27, the Tulsa Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously to set a countywide election for April 1 to address two critical public safety issues: to provide additional space at the David L. Moss Criminal Justice Center and to build new facilities for the Tulsa County Juvenile Justice system.

The Commissioner’s decision to put these two projects up for election came after two important contributions by the citizens of Tulsa County. The first was the grand jury report which summarized weeks of facility inspections along with an analysis of the needs by 15 citizens from across the county. The second was the input which the citizens provided during the seven town hall meetings held throughout the county where the problems and the proposals were presented. From this involvement by the citizens of Tulsa County, it was clearly communicated to the commissioners that the time to improve our public safety is now.

Commissioners have put before the voters two proposals: $11,000,000 to add four units to the jail, one of which is a specialized unit for the mentally ill who are incarcerated and one is a segregation unit for juvenile offenders. The other proposal is for $45,000,000 to rebuild the juvenile justice facilities, which includes the juvenile detention facility, the juvenile courts and the support services.

The improvements will be paid for with a countywide sales tax of .067. This is the equivalent to roughly 7 cents on a purchase of $100 .

This .067 sales tax is already being assessed by the City of Tulsa on all sale tax transactions. This tax is set to expire June 30. Rather than let this tax expire in June, the county is asking citizens to extend the tax and repurpose the tax for public safety purposes. Since the tax already exists in Tulsa, those who shop in the Tulsa city limits will see NO tax increase on their purchases. This is a temporary extension of the tax for 15 years.

A lot of information about the situation at the jail and why the additional space is needed has already been stated. The reasons are primarily two: the first is that the number of inmates who have a mental illness has reached an all-time high and to allow them to be integrated with the general jail population poses great risks to the staff as well as the other inmates. The second reason is the number of inmates who should be transferred to the Department of Corrections but aren’t due to lack of prison space. Combined, these two factors have pushed the jail population to almost 200 more than capacity.

The juvenile faculties for the most part were built in the 1960’s. There have been some improvements but there is broad agreement that it would be unwise to throw good money after bad on a facility that is not only in a flood zone but unable to be modified.

Public safety is always the number one issue on the minds of Tulsa County citizens. Though there are lots of reasons why there is crime in our communities, the fact is that we must address the situations before the current conditions become legal and financial risks for the citizens.

Whether it’s trying to rehabilitate a juvenile offender or providing treatment to a mentally ill adult, facilities do make a difference when it comes to having successful public safety outcomes. It’s simply a matter of the citizens paying now or paying later.

There is wide spread support for these proposals. District Attorney Tim Harris, District Juvenile Court Judge Doris Fransien and Presiding Judge Carlos Chappell, County Commissioners Ron Peters and Karen Keith, our local business leaders of the Tulsa Regional Chamber, the Sheriff’s Deputies , along with many leaders in the nonprofit community have united behind these proposals.

I want to ask all the citizens of Tulsa County to support both propositions and vote on April 1.

Updated 03-18-2014

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