Getting out of the Tulsa County jail

Friday, November 19th 2004, 10:51 am

By: News On 6

54 people were released from the Tulsa County jail in one day and more will soon follow. They were all serving time for unpaid court fines.

Keeping them behind bars was costing the county more than it was worth. News on 6 crime reporter Lori Fullbright shows us how letting these people go is saving our tax dollars.

Paula Clayton was put in jail in September because she hadn't paid fines from her 1994 traffic tickets. Dennis Thompson has been sitting in jail since April for unpaid fines from 1991. And, Shirissa Wilson has been behind bars since February for failure to pay her fines from 1989 to 2002.

All were released in one day with 51 others. They were let go to help the criminal justice authority's budget, which will be in a deficit at the first of the year for jail operations. Most inmates get $25 a day credit toward their unpaid fines, but the county pays $48 a day to house them.

So it saves money to let them go and the hope is, they'll get jobs and pay off their fines faster. Tulsa County Commissioner Chief Deputy Paul Wilkening: "We are not sending everyone home. We are keeping 25 inmates for our work program. You see them picking up garbage and mowing. And if we paid a county worker to do that it would be eight dollars an hour, so we'll keep some to do the work we need them to do."

The 54 people released this week owe the county a total of $144,390. It costs the county more than that just to keep then in jail for 60 days. Saving taxpayer money is the upside of releasing these people.

The downside is some may feel there's no need to ever pay their fines, but this free pass is a limited time offer. Paul Wilkening: "We're not going to play this game forever. If this goes on, you can break into jail if you really want to and you know people sometimes do that. But if they don't pay their fines, ultimately they will serve time."

Some folks have been sitting in jail for a year and a half just for not paying their fines. Those cases used to be reviewed every few months, now they'll be reviewed every week.

The other thing the Tulsa County Criminal Justice Authority is doing to save money is get CCA to charge less than $48 a day to house the inmates; the Oklahoma County Sheriff does it for $35 a day.

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