Oklahoma Annual cost of repeatedly jailing 1 man: $160,000

By Michael Kimball

The Oklahoman

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Floyd Crawford is one of the few jail inmates Oklahoma City Municipal Judge William J. Manger knows on a first-name basis.

"When we don't see him for a while, that's when we worry about him. He's the Otis of Oklahoma City," Manger said, referring to the town drunk character on the 1960s TV series "The Andy Griffith Show."

Crawford, a 66-year-old transient, has been arrested more than 450 times since 1989, according to records of city police, the Oklahoma County Jail -- where he has spent more than 200 days since Sept. 12, 2009 -- and state records. Most were misdemeanor complaints of public drunkenness or trespassing, and more than 360 have come since April 2002.

Crawford was most recently arrested Wednesday on a public drunkenness complaint.

Each ambulance ride or visit Crawford makes to the jail or emergency room has a price tag.

In Oklahoma City's yearlong study on the cost of homelessness, a section titled "Portrait of One Homeless Man" explores the cost of one individual. While it does not identify the man by name, his listed arrest record shows it's Crawford.

The city spent more than $160,000 on Crawford from April 1, 2009, to March 31, perhaps the biggest drop in the nearly $29 million bucket spent on the homeless in that time, the report estimates.

The number includes Crawford's visits to jail and emergency rooms and paramedic services, but not nonemergency medical care or wages earned by attorneys and judges working on his cases.

Law enforcement officials and leaders in substance abuse and mental health counseling say Crawford and people like him need cheaper places to stay and help they can't get in jail.

"If society is unwilling to get sufficient funding for mental health and substance abuse treatment, these kinds of individuals will fall through the cracks, spend several days in jail and it will cost the taxpayers that way," Oklahoma County Public Defender Robert Ravitz said. "We'd be better off spending that money on the front end and treating people, not arresting them."

Mildred Owens, 54, of Oklahoma City, said she dated and lived with Crawford for a while in the 1980s. She said Crawford called her his first wife though they were never married. Crawford's drinking and petty crime led to their breakup.

"He was a drunk, and I don't drink," Owens said. "I haven't seen him in 20 years ... except once at the store. He was so drunk he didn't recognize me."

Owens said Crawford's parents died long ago. Manger said he has heard that Crawford has a sister in Midwest City who would let him stay with her if he were to give up drinking, but The Oklahoman's efforts to find a living relative were unsuccessful. Most potential relatives listed in a public records search are Crawford's various aliases.

Ravitz and Al Friedman, CEO of Red Rock Behavioral Health Services, pointed to drastic funding cuts to mental health and substance abuse counseling in the past two decades as one reason people like Crawford end up in jail instead of treatment centers. Friedman said that, although state funds for such services were spared the most severe cuts in the recent round of budget trimming, they had declined steadily over the previous 20 years.

Crawford hasn't been arrested on a felony complaint since 1994. He served three short stints in Oklahoma prisons in the 1990s on convictions of larceny, incurring forfeiture of bail and concealing stolen property and was last released in 1996, according to state prison records. Other records show he was sentenced to prison at least five times in Texas in the 1960s and 1970s, the most serious of which came from a robbery conviction.

Crawford could not be interviewed for this story because Oklahoma County jail rules prohibit media visits to inmates. But Manger said Crawford comes across as genial and honest in his courtroom appearances and doesn't appear to be a threat to anyone, though police reports sometimes describe Crawford using vulgarities and being uncooperative.

"But he doesn't want help," Judge Manger said. "Those that want help, there are ways to get it to them."

Manger said Crawford and people with similar issues are usually given small fines or short jail terms when they plead guilty to misdemeanor charges. A typical recent state court plea agreement left Crawford with a $30 fine and about $200 in court costs.

A one-day jail stay is equivalent to paying $100 in fines, so they usually choose to deal with the fine by staying in jail, Manger said. Crawford also once asked to remain in jail an extra day to allow time for an injury to heal, he said.

Published: Fri, Sep 17, 2010