Oklahoma County Government

Incarceration Reduction Critical To New Jail Project

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Oklahoma County officials need to take a serious look at reducing its incarceration rate before asking local taxpayers to pay for a new jail.

County officials say voters may be asked soon to approve a one-cent sales tax increase, which would raise $350 million over three years. That money would go to building a new jail or improving the current one.

If the county does nothing, the U.S. Department of Justice, which issued a report last year that cited civil rights and overcrowding problems at the jail, will file a lawsuit to increase property taxes over a three-year period to raise money for a jail project, county officials say.

The enforced property tax increase would cost some local residents more than the sales tax, which is partly funded by people outside the county, but sale taxes are by nature regressive and cost low-income people more of a percentage of their wages. (Here’s an article by Brian Bus in The Journal Record that outlines the two types of tax increases.)

Simply put, there are no good options. Taxes are going to go up one way or another.

But underlying the chronic overcrowding problem at the county jail is the pervasive statewide attitude to lock up as many people as possible. The state leads the nation in the per capita number of women incarcerated. It’s overall incarceration rate for 2007 was 665 per 100,000 residents compared to 506 per 100,000 residents nationally. The state normally ranks in the top five among states in incarceration rates.

The U.S. Department of Justice report pointed out the Oklahoma County jail is overcrowded and doesn’t have enough bed space for its approximately 2,500 inmates. Only eight other counties in the nation incarcerate people at a higher rate than Oklahoma County, according to a Justice Policy Institute study.

Unfortunately, reducing the county’s incarceration rate doesn’t seem to be a major part of the recent discussion when it comes to building a new jail, but it’s probably the most critical issue. There are too many nonviolent offenders, many on drug charges, sitting in jails when they could be on parole or in treatment programs. Too many people are arrested, locked up and their lives ruined in the ongoing, disastrous “War on Drugs,” started by former President Richard Nixon.

Oklahoma County officials should join with local judges, prosecutors and law enforcement agencies, among others, to find ways to reduce the incarceration rate at the jail. This could prevent future overcrowding problems and tax hikes.

In Defense of Prater

Picasso painting

(Now is a time for calm in the OKC community as the facts of the case get sorted out. It may well be, as Ersland’s attorney Irven Box predicts, that no jury will convict him. That seems like a good bet to make in Oklahoma, but that doesn’t mean Prater should or could have ignored the law.)

It’s difficult to imagine any rational-thinking person could believe Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater was trying to make a political statement when he charged a local pharmacist with first-degree murder.

The pharmacist, Jerome Jay Ersland, 57, shot a 16-year-old boy to death May 19 during an armed robbery attempt at the Reliable Discount Pharmacy in Oklahoma City, according to media reports.

Even a cursory glance at the facts as reported by the local media shows Prater had a legal duty to respond to the case’s two most significant and current pieces of evidence, a surveillance video and a medical examiner’s autopsy report. These were pieces of evidence surely viewed by others besides Prater. He couldn’t ignore what the evidence showed or what it might mean or how it might be construed, and what’s more he shouldn’t have ignored it.

Was Prater just to dismiss the fact the video allegedly indicates 16-year-old Antwun Parker was incapacitated after being shot initially by Ersland and that the pharmacist retrieved another weapon and came back and shot the boy several more times? (Watch the video here. ) Was he to ignore the fact the autopsy report apparently shows it was the second volley of bullets that killed the boy? Prater has a responsibility to the law as a district attorney.

Here’s another simple question: Can anyone believe that Prater wants this controversy? Prater, for example, argued during a court hearing for the pharmacist that he believes in the right of self-defense and that the pharmacist was not charged over the initial shooting. Meanwhile, Prater has also charged three other people alleged to be involved in the armed robber with first-degree murder and not one of them fired a bullet in the robbery attempt.

No one I know is arguing the pharmacist, who is free on bail, didn’t have a right to protect himself and other employees, or that he shouldn’t have had access to guns. He did have the right. We all have that right. It’s part of the law.

Meanwhile, extremists and contrarians on a local discussion board and the blogosphere have gone overboard with hyperbole about Prater’s charges. The current judge in the case has also received death threats, according to media reports. The case has obviously stirred emotions, but this is definitely not the Second Amendment case some gun advocates seem to want it to be. Ersland was well within the law to have guns and to initially shoot. That’s not in dispute.

Now is a time for calm in the OKC community as the facts of the case get sorted out. It may well be, as Ersland’s attorney Irven Box predicts, that no jury will convict him. That seems like a good bet to make in Oklahoma, but that doesn’t mean Prater should or could have ignored the law. Most people will be sympathetic to a pharmacist suddenly faced with an armed robbery attempt. It’s hard to predict how anyone might react in that situation. It may well be that there will be no trial or other evidence emerges.

But Prater had no choice, with what appears to be obvious and public evidence, to bring charges given what has been made known about the case at this point. He deserves credit for standing with the law, knowing the case would generate massive publicity and he would draw heat. That’s real integrity.

Willa Johnson For County Commissioner

Where There’s A Willa There’s A Way!

Image of Willa Johnson

Willa Johnson is the clear choice for District 1 Oklahoma County Commissioner in Tuesday’s election.

In her 14 years as an Oklahoma City Councilwoman representing the city’s northeast section, Johnson has demonstrated she can work with a diverse group of people to get things done. She has strong leadership qualities and the ability to understand the “big picture” in terms of developing and maintaining the infrastructure in the OKC area.

She will continue in the reform tradition of Jim Roth, the former District 1 Commissioner who now serves on the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. Roth redefined “county commissioner” and all that the position signifies in the state’s history. He changed the way many people think about country government. Undoubtedly, Johnson will create her own reformist legacy in the position.

Johnson’s experience with metropolitan issues will allow her to hit the ground running when she takes office. Her opponent, Forrest Claunch, has political experience as a former state legislator, but he lacks the specific experience Johnson can bring to the job. Johnson knows the people that make the metropolitan area work.

Oklahoma County needs someone of Johnson’s caliber in the position. This is an important election, and Johnson deserves your vote.

War Pigs: Imperial President George Bush and Imperial General David Petraeus

(Click here for a short flash movie we put together for you here at Okie Funk. Turn up the speakers. Let's end this botched, senseless Iraq occupation.)

Generals gathered in their masses
Just like witches at black masses
Evil minds that plot destruction
Sorcerers of deaths construction
In the fields the bodies burning
As the war machine keeps turning
Death and hatred to mankind
Poisoning their brainwashed minds . . . —Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs”

Image of Bush and Petraeus

President George Bush and his lapdog, General David Petraeus, are despicable liars and warmongers who will spin and distort information this week in order to continue the long and gruesome Iraq occupation indefinitely. The blood of thousands of innocent people is on their hands, true, but national Democrats (the fraidycrats) will fail to speak up in enough numbers as well. The Democrats could stop this occupation, but they will refuse to do so because of political expediency, even though a majority of Americans want it to come to an end. Corporate media reporters—the elite, beltway “infotainers"-will let us down again by serving as stenographers for these two morally-challenged liars.

Only rubes will believe what these two men say about the surge and how successful it is. Only rubes will believe what the corporate media outlets report.

Here is how Tom Engelhardt, writing in Salon.com, puts it: "Why anyone in the media or Congress takes this situation seriously as "news," or even something to argue about, is hard to tell. Think of it this way: The most political general in recent memory has been asked to assess his own work (as has our ambassador in Iraq), and then present "recommendations" to the White House in a "report" that is actually being written in the White House. You couldn't call it a political version of "the honor system"; but perhaps the dishonor system would do. Numbers in Iraq are a slippery matter at best, though again, why anyone pays serious attention to U.S. military numbers from that country is a mystery. On countless occasions in the past, these have been ridiculous undercounts of disaster."

Here is the truth: There will never be political reconciliation in Iraq until American troops leave. Never. Why is that obvious and truthful position still marginalized? Why is that so difficult to understand? Why do corporate media outlets not even consider the idea that once we leave Iraq the country’s factions will be forced to come together for basic survival? A new unity government will then shut down the small number of Al Quada operatives who operate in the country. Al Quada is in Iraq only because Bush and his cronies allowed it to happen, intentionally or not. They could stop support for Al Quada in Iraq by simply withdrawing the troops. This idea certainly has more credibility than the idea American troops would be welcomed in Iraq, as Imperial Vice President Dick Cheney said in 2003, as “liberators.” Those of us against the Iraq invasion knew then what a calculated lie that was. Why do the infotainers, the tanned, made-up media stars, not allow the people who were 100 percent correct about the Iraq invasion and ensuing occupation a voice on this issue?

American people bought into the WMD story, which was a lie. Then they accepted to some degree the “democracy in the Mideast” spin for a year or so, which was a lie. And now Bush and Petaeus will argue that peace in Iraq can only come with more bombs, guns and deaths. But none of this “arguing within the error” really matters. What matters is that the Iraq occupation is a debacle, one of the worst, if not the absolute worst, foreign policy blunders in the nation’s history. Bush and his fellow Republicans, including his puppet general, are 100 percent responsible for this mess.

Here is a small part of a talk I gave in Oklahoma City last week about the coming neofascist state in America:

” Let me take you into your very possible future. It’s September 6, 2009. Fred Thompson is president and the House and Senate on both the federal and state level have clear Republican majorities. The Iraq occupation drags on with no end in sight, and now we’re fighting in Iran, too. Every aspect of our private lives—our phone calls, emails, personal conservations—is scrutinized by Republican government operatives. More people are without health insurance than ever. The richest one percent of Americans own even more of the wealth and land in the country. American and foreign prisoners are routinely tortured on the slimmest evidence of wrongdoing. In Oklahoma, government has become completely privatized. Our bridges are collapsing and huge potholes on our highways go unrepaired, causing accidents that kill and injure. Gasoline is $10 a gallon. National Guardsmen patrol state borders and make sure everyone has a long-list of required documents proving they are citizens. If you do not have the required ten documents then it is off to jail with you for some good ol’ American torture complete with sexual humiliation and waterboarding that may or may not result in your death.”

Hyperbole?

Our war pig president and his war pig general are going to lie without any major repercussions this week about the country’s five-year military occupation of another country. A clear majority of American people and a vast majority of world citizens will know they are lying. The corporate media war pigs will not call the liars on their pigshit. Yet you still believe our democratic structures are not in danger? SOOooiee!

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