Council votes against renewal of agreements during marathon meeting
By Jeff Harrison
Midwest City Beacon
Midwest City will no longer participate in the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Advisory Council (CJAC).
The city council last week voted not to renew agreements with the organization over concerns that it was not meeting its goals of improving the county jail and promoting criminal justice reform.
The council voted 5-2 to not renew both an inter-local agreement and professional service agreement with CJAC at the Sept. 27 meeting. Councilmembers Susan Eads, Megan Bain, Sean Reed, Sara Bana and Rick Favors voted not to renew the agreements. Mayor Matt Dukes and councilman Pat Byrne voted in opposition.
The vote came after a lengthy and heated discussion that lasted into the midnight hour. Bana and a group of activists led the opposition against CJAC, arguing that the organization has failed to live up to its promises of criminal justice reform and improving the county jail.
“It was an empowering night for the City of Midwest City and its council to be able to take the diligence and the time they took to get in detail of all of the issues that came with that contract,” Bana said. “I’m proud of our city council and I’m proud of our city. I hope this gives other municipalities hope about how they can bring about change.”
Bana and fellow members of the People’s Council for Justice Reform held a protest outside of the Midwest City City Hall on Sept. 13 to raise awareness about conditions of the county jail and urging city leaders not to renew the agreements with CJAC.
The city council followed through with the group’s request to not renew the agreement, but rejected a separate request to not send detainees, who are facing felony charges, to the Oklahoma County Jail.
The Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Advisory Council was formed in 2017 through an inter-local agreement between Midwest City, Oklahoma City, Edmond, and Oklahoma County. The partnership was created to study and evaluate the criminal justice system, recommend policies to reduce recidivism, reduce the jail population and increase community and public safety.
The members were also paying CJAC yearly for professional services. Midwest City was paying 3.6% of the costs or $10,800 annually. Since 2018, the city has paid about $54,000.
The city council was considering a request to renew both agreements. The previous interlocal agreement expires this month. The professional services agreement is renewed on an annual basis.
Tim Tardibono, CJAC Executive Director, gave a presentation about the organization including its history, goals and actions taken so far including alternative sentencing and treatment programs.
The Oklahoma County Jail Authority, also known as the Trust, took over operations of the county jail.
Tardibono said the county jail has seen its population decrease and then plateau in recent years. Since 2018, the county has also seen a decline in the number of people sent to prison, Tardibono said.
“The negative effects of long-term prison, the difficulty and cost to the community of reentry that is costly and sometimes doesn’t work is being alleviated and abated as Oklahoma County is doing a better job of expanding the number of people going into these alternative – pretrial release or drug court,” Tardibono said.
Tardibono said they have also helped make improvements to the county jail such as repairing and replacing locks and a new body scanner to try to reduce contraband. He said they are working to attract and retain staff. CJAC is also playing a role in planning for a new county jail.
Byrne asked Tardibono if CJAC has been identified as the target of a grand jury investigation. Tardibono said he has not been asked to testify or been presented documents related to the investigation.
Reed asked about the long-term future of CJAC.
“If everything goes the way we hope it would go with a new facility and expanded mental health services, I think that’d be a good question to look back on and say is it necessary to continue,” he said. “Ask me in 10 years.”
Eads said if the city continued to fund CJAC it would represent a 15-year commitment.
“I still don’t understand what we’re getting for that investment,” she said.
Eads asked former Police Chief Brandon Clabes, who played a key role in creating the group, if he believed CJAC has helped make forward progress in improving the jail. Clabes said CJAC has been successful in creating partnerships and improving the system as a whole. He agreed that the jail has not improved during that time, but said his role was to give a voice to Midwest City.
“I think it’s imperative that the people you represent have a voice at the table,” Clabes said. “And the only way we can have a voice is if we’re part of that process.”
Reed asked if the city continued to stay in CJAC would the jail improve.
“I do, because now the bond issue has passed and now you have the opportunity to provide input how that jail is built, how it’s run, how the mental health aspects and drugs courts are facilitated,” Clabes said. “There are a lot of components to the equation. Do we not want to have a seat at the table to have that input?”
Midwest City Police Chief Sid Porter agreed that Midwest City should be involved in CJAC.
Bana argued that Midwest City residents already pay taxes toward the current jail and will help fund construction of a new facility. She said the county criminal justice system is becoming privatized.
“Why would we need to pay – as residents and taxpayers – to have a voice on the future of our county jail,” Bana said.
Reed questioned Bana about alternatives if the city left CJAC. Bana said she believes the situation has deteriorated since the creation of CJAC. She said they should pressure CJAC to be more inclusive of public input rather than seeking money from municipalities. She said CJAC has also canceled several of their regular meetings.
Several members of the People’s Council for Justice Reform spoke out against CJAC and urged the council not to renew the agreement.
Mark Faulk, of Oklahodma City, said he believes CJAC and the future of the jail are being controlled by business leaders in Oklahoma City. He said the conditions of the jail are worse than people know.
“What you hear on the news is one one-hundredth of what goes on in there,” he said. “It is shameful. And do you know what we use as a model? The Midwest City jail. I want to compliment you. CJAC and Oklahoma County should be paying Midwest City to learn how to run a jail properly.”
Garland Pruitt, NAACP President, said those tasked with improving the jail are not getting the job done.
“It is not working. And the definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing expecting different results,” he said. “That’s where we’re at right now.”
Brittany Hussein, of Midwest City, said she has personal experience working with Midwest City residents through social programs including the Division Hub and The Education and Employment
Ministry (TEEM). She now serves as director of Leah’s Hope, a transitional housing non-profit in Midwest City.
“I have worked with these individuals, and I have seen Midwest City residents be reunited with their family and children,” she said. “These are the children that are impacted by the conditions of the jail. But these children are also being impacted in a positive way by the programs.”
Hussein said it is important for city leaders to hold CJAC accountable and suggested revisiting it in a year.
“What we all agree on is that the conditions of the Oklahoma County Jail are atrocious, and no human being should have to deal with that,” she said.
Bana originally made a motion to postpone the item until the conclusion of the multi-county grand jury into the Oklahoma County Jail. She later withdrew that request and made a motion to reject the proposal to renew the agreements.
The motion was approved by a 5-2 vote.
Oklahoma City, Edmond and Oklahoma County each renewed the interlocal agreements before Midwest City’s meeting on Sept. 27.
After the Midwest City meeting, Porter said he will continue to attend the CJAC public meetings and follow their efforts.
In a separate agenda item, the council rejected Bana’s request for Midwest City to stop sending detainees, who are facing felony charges, to the Oklahoma County Jail. She wanted the city to look for alternative options including contracting with a different county’s jail.
Porter said he too is troubled by the conditions at the Oklahoma County Jail but said transferring detainees to a different county would be costly and logistically taxing.
“It’s going to cost a whole lot of money and a whole lot of personnel that I don’t have right now,” he said. “I have hired 24 new police officers in two years because of retirements.”
Porter said the Midwest City Jail is a municipal facility and cannot be used to hold people facing felony charges.
Bana asked if the city attorney could further investigate the issue. Dukes said they should allow the police department and others to help with the request and not place the burden on the city attorney.
The council did not approve the request.
Byrne followed with a motion to not direct the city manager to seek a contract with a third-party to replace the Oklahoma County Jail as the location for individuals arrested on felony or state related charges.
The motion passed 5-2.
Bana also asked the council to draft a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice concerning conditions at the Oklahoma County Jail. She pointed out that the jail has seen 14 deaths this year. And a case earlier this year, which a man was accused of raping a female detainee while she was handcuffed to a cell wall while waiting to be processed.
Other councilmembers believed they should address the issue directly to the Jail Trust and County officials. They voted to send a letter to the Jail Trust and the Oklahoma County Commissioners seeking their advisement and asking for reports or findings from their investigations as well as those conducted by the Oklahoma Health Department.