After three unsuccessful attempts one December morning to find wanted felons, the Tulsa police warrants squad had finally found someone.
A 31-year-old woman with a felony warrant for possession of counterfeit currency was still in her northeast Tulsa home when Tulsa Police Detective Andrew Mackenzie knocked on her door.
But Mackenzie’s heart sank when he entered the house and saw four young children in the home along with the woman.
Arranging for someone to watch the children could pose a problem.
As the mother prepared for the ride to jail, the 8-year-old boy asked about the mid-morning visit by police.
They just need to talk to their mom about something, Mackenzie tells the boy, who, apparently satisfied with the answer, then begins talking about martial arts.
Parents often are prone to say they don’t have anyone who can take their children, perhaps a play on the officers’ sympathies and to avoid jail, Mackenzie said.
A name often jogs loose, though, once police mention that state authorities will have to be called to take custody of the children if they don’t have any family or friends to take them, Mackenzie said.
Such child placement problems are not unique when females are arrested. An estimated 85 percent of incarcerated female felons in Oklahoma had at least one child, nearly half of whom still lived with the mother at the time of the arrest, according to a 2010 study cited by the state Department of Corrections.
But few, an estimated 6 percent of the Oklahoma children of incarcerated mothers, end up in foster care, according to a 2010 survey.
Still, the numbers are a concern as Oklahoma adult female arrest rates continue to rise in a state ranked No. 1 nationally in the percentage of its female population that is incarcerated.
One woman’s story
For Mackenzie, this December morning, the news is good. The kids can stay. The husband is home.
Kristy Rene Wade softly weeps as Mackenzie guides her into the front seat of his Ford Focus for the ride downtown to the Tulsa Jail.
The two make small talk on the way. Wade explains she has lived in Tulsa since she was a young child. She says she graduated with honors from Tulsa Public Schools.
She says she loves animals and talks about the two pet tortoises that are in her home.
Wade says she doesn’t work outside the home. She says her husband does and describes him as a hard worker.
“We’re doing our best,” Wade says.
At the jail, Wade describes how she was suspicious when a friend gave her a $100 bill to buy some grocery items at a Braum’s store last August.
Tulsa County prosecutors charged Wade on Dec. 2 with three counts of possession of counterfeit currency. The charges allege Wade passed three counterfeit $100 bills at the store.
Wade says she cooperated with authorities who initially investigated the incident. Describing herself as “gullible,” she blames another woman, who was charged with one count of possession of counterfeit currency, for her predicament.
“I have too soft of a heart,” Wade says.
“I’ve never been in trouble before,” she says. “Hopefully, I won’t go to prison.”
Wade doesn’t mention her September arrest for driving with a suspended driver’s license.
During a search of her car before it was towed, a Tulsa County Sheriff’s deputy allegedly found a white powdery substance in a folded-up $1 bill lying next to the center console of the vehicle. A field test of the substance indicated it was methamphetamine.
The charge of unlawful possession of methamphetamine, filed Sept. 29, was the first time Wade had been charged with a felony in Oklahoma, a check of the Oklahoma State Courts Network indicates. Her cases are pending in Tulsa District Court.
FEMALE ARREST RATE NEAR AVERAGE
Law enforcement personnel arrested 144,390 adults in 2009 in Oklahoma. About one in four of those adults arrested in Oklahoma was a female, on par with the national average, according to FBI Uniform Crime Reporting data.
Oklahoma ranks 18th nationally in its arrest rate of adult females, which is 83 percent higher than the U.S. female arrest rate, and adult female arrests in the state are on the rise.
Statewide, the number of adult females arrested has increased 12 percent since 2005, according to FBI Uniform Crime Reporting data maintained by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.
The increase in adult female arrests mirrors a national trend.
Much of the increase in Oklahoma adult female arrests can be linked to a 105 percent increase in larceny arrests since 2002. In 2009, about 6,000 adult females were arrested for larceny compared with nearly 3,000 in 2002, a Tulsa World analysis of OSBI data indicates.
One encouraging trend can be found in the arrest numbers.
Adult female drug arrests have decreased 17 percent in Oklahoma from 2005 to 2009.
Of more than 38,000 adult females arrested in 2009 in Oklahoma, 12 percent were booked on drug-related complaints, OSBI data shows.
Meanwhile, half of the women in prison in 2010 were serving time for drug-related sentences.
A World analysis of the OSBI data indicates that much of the decrease in state adult female drug arrests can be traced to a decrease in bookings for possession of cocaine, opium and synthetic narcotics such as ecstasy and methamphetamine.
As is the case at the state level, arrests of adult females in Tulsa County have increased, rising 25 percent from 2005 to 2009. In Oklahoma County, arrests of adult females increased 8 percent from 2005 to 2009.
Unlike the state, which is seeing declining drug arrest numbers of females, the arrest rate of adult females on drug-related crimes in Tulsa County has fluctuated, but generally increased slightly since 2005. Adult female drug arrests in Oklahoma County have increased 29 percent since 2005.
Just as at the state level, larceny arrests are fueling much of the increase in adult female arrests in Tulsa County, OSBI data indicates.
A University of Oklahoma professor linked many recent drug arrests to government grants that went to law enforcement agencies.
“To earn their keep, they have to produce, and they end up arresting not drug kingpins but what we would call the low-hanging fruit, so that pushes up the arrest rate, too,” said Susan Sharp, an OU professor of sociology, who specializes in gender in the criminal justice system.
Sharp said the fact that Oklahoma isn’t ranked high in its female arrest rates indicates that the problems with the high incarceration rate occurs further down the road in the judicial process.
“We’re kind of dead center as far as arrest rates in our country,” Sharp said. “It’s not our arrest rate, it’s how we respond to arrests.”
JAIL DIVERSION PROGRAM
Some efforts are being focused on reducing the number arrested.
As part of a jail diversion plan, Tulsa County has the state’s only program of mental health emergency responders available to work on-call with law enforcement, according to the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse.
The Community Outreach Psychiatric Emergency Services (COPES) rotates 19 clinicians on a 24-hour schedule to go with police to scenes where a person may be suicidal, homicidal or psychotic. It is a program of Family and Children’s Services.
Last year, COPES responded to about 400 calls each month, with slightly more than half of those for women, said program director Stacie Barnett.By getting into treatment or achieving stability with a follow-up plan, less than 1 percent of the people seen by COPES went to jail as a result of the incident, she said.
However, Barnett said she is seeing more people ending up in jail because of a lack of treatment services. Oklahoma has between 600 and 900 people each day waiting on a treatment bed, according to the state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse.
“We may respond to a scene and agree to take them, and law enforcement agrees we should take them, but there are no beds,” Barnett said.
“Officers will go ahead and arrest them and take them to jail. The thought is that it is better for that person to be safe, not in danger of hurting other people and off the street.”
In this worst-case scenario, Family and Children’s Services has a program where a clinician can provide some treatment while a person is in the Tulsa County Jail, she said.
In 2009, COPES had about two people per month go to jail, but that monthly average nearly doubled last year, Barnett said.
Waiting until a person is at the point of arrest or jail is not good policy or use of taxpayer funds, said Michael Brose, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Tulsa.
“Yes, they are safe and are getting reasonably good mental health care, but that is not the solution,” Brose said. “Ultimately, they are going to be released, and we need to deal with that.”
Ginnie Graham, Tulsa World staff writer, contributed to this story