Carter County officials gathered at the Ardmore Convention Center Friday to update community members on the issues currently facing the area.
While most county officials updated current progress in their respective areas, Carter County Sheriff Chris Bryant painted a dark picture of his office’s ongoing struggle combating what he called “rampant’ drug use in the area.
Bryant said ongoing efforts to police drug abuse continues to be hampered by recent changes to the state’s drug laws.
While, overall, the crime rate in Carter County has been on a steady decline in recent years, Carter County jail continues to remain above its recommended occupancy level, an issue Bryant said wouldn’t be resolved by increasing the jail’s capacity.
Bryant said jail population is currently at 190 with a capacity of 186, well below the 274 incarcerated when he took office.
“Sixty two percent of that is female,” Bryant said. “The biggest problem we face now is the opioids and methamphetamines. Methamphetamines are running rampant.”
Bryant said the vast majority, roughly 97 percent of the meth present in Carter County can be traced from Oklahoma City and Dallas with roughly 3 percent being made in the county.
“They are bringing it in instead of making it, which is good to a point,” Bryant said. “At least they aren’t cooking it here and exposing their kids, which we have seen drastically before when they were making all this stuff in front of their families.”
Bryant also said heroine was making a comeback in the area as well.
While the jail continues to remain at or above capacity, Bryant said there wasn’t currently a need to increase its capacity or build a new jail, though the existing facility does have space to expand, a project Bryant estimated would cost roughly $1.3 million.
Bryant said ongoing work with the DA’s office and local judges has helped reduce some strain on the jail, though longterm incarcerations for Department of Corrections’ inmates awaiting trial countinues to be an issue.
“I don’t think anyone in this room wants to see the jail get bigger,” Bryant said. “I know I don’t. I can build it to hold 250, and there will be 300 inmates.”
Recent changes to state drug and property crime laws, while marketed as an alternative to combating drug abuse statewide, has been criticized by local officials as having little to no effect in rural areas of the state.
“When (State Questions) 780 and 781 came in to effect, it did not help us. It did not carry over to southern Oklahoma,” Bryant said. “You can have 19.8 grams of meth. A Sweet’N Low packet is a gram, so you can basically have 20 of those before it becomes a felony. So what happened is they took that and passed it down to the county level, so now the big thing was the mental health. So now the mental health (professionals) are coming under fire because they don’t have enough people to help us help them.”
Another program intended to help reduce the strain on the jail is an amnesty program provided by Carter County Clerk Renee Burkhart Bryant’s office.
The program allows individuals with outstanding fines or warrants for failure to pay an opportunity to reset or lower their payment schedules and avoid jail time.
“People that can’t find a job because they have a felony, they can’t afford to pay $150 a month on their fines, they have other bills,”  Burkhart Bryant said, adding that she believes people shouldn’t be incarcerated just because they can’t afford to pay their fines.
“I understand that there has to be fines and they have to be paid,” Burkhart Bryant said. “The amnesty program is to help people get those warrants off.”
Burkhart Bryant said the program gives individuals who are struggling financially an opportunity to avoid jail time, embarrassments and lost wages due to incarcerations.
The amnesty program is usually offered about twice a year, with the next one anticipated for sometime this summer.