ADA — With the numerous recent drug arrests throughout Ada adding to the current offender population, the Pontotoc County jail is bursting at the seams with inmate over-crowding, and has local judges and jail administration trying to find a balance.

Pontotoc County Sheriff Pete Peterson said the current jail was erected in 1972 to accommodate only 42 inmates. Although it was called "state of the art" at the time, Pontotoc County seems to have outgrown the facility.

"I've been here just over a year and I've never seen the number 42," Peterson said.

Peterson said recently the jail's population grew to 74 inmates, so he visited with local judges about reducing current numbers. Soon thereafter four non-violent offenders were released early Peterson said. Then, due to the aggressive crime-fighting of the Ada Police Narcotics Unit, Peterson said eight more inmates were booked in, raising the count to 78.

"We're having to reduce bail on offenders that we normally wouldn't reduce bail on," Special Judge John D. Miller said. "We physically can't keep everybody in jail who should be there, we have to prioritize."

"The city is making a lot of drug arrests, and that's a good thing but those arrests add from four to eight more people to the jail each time," Miller said.

"We're trying to prioritize those coming into the jail. We look at things like violent versus non-violent offenders, property crimes versus crimes against people, prior convictions, history of re-offending," Miller said. “We are looking at those in jail for old fines and costs and giving them other opportunities.”

Miller said the problem of over-crowding is really not a new one. "We've dealt with this before. It's just a constant process," Miller said. "In the 23 years I have been here, the jail has often been over-crowed.

"Quite honestly, we just need a bigger jail," Miller said.

In addition to over-crowding, the jail faces other problems associated with a lack of funding.

Peterson said food costs run approximately $4000 a month and funding supplies like mattresses, clothing, and other inmate needs are often difficult.

In June, 2005, Jim Rowenhurst, a jail assessor from the National Institute of Corrections, visited the jail and conducted an analysis of the facility.

"This jail ranks among the worst I have seen," Rowenhurst said. He listed over-crowding as the most urgent problem with the jail but added under-staffing, mold growth on walls and showers, no windows, and no emergency exit as important concerns.

"Maybe they've made poor choices, but they are still people," Peterson said of the cramped inmates.

Peterson said he has spoken with county commissioners numerous times about the jail's many problems. Peterson said Pontotoc County is one of a few Oklahoma counties with no county tax. Advocates for a new jail and courthouse believe a tax is necessary to construct new facilities.

"I'm hoping to get it on the ballot in July," Peterson said.

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