Oklahoma’s state and local government agencies’ funding streams have become increasingly reliant on fines, fees and court costs assessed to defendants, a financial crisis in the making as the state’s criminal justice reforms begin to lower the numbers of felony cases, the Tulsa World reports. Court collections have grown 27% since fiscal year 2007, with a host of designated funds and administrative charges getting added to the tab.
State or local executive branch agencies receive one-third of the about $160 million in annual collections of fines, fees and court costs, according to Oklahoma Supreme Court records, one clear sign of the state’s dependence on court collections to underwrite not just the judicial system but state and local executive branch agencies. Nearly $590 million was collected from FY 2007-2017 for programs not related to the district courts. Kris Steele, executive director of Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, warned of an “unconscionable” drift toward policies that “criminalize poverty.” “I understand that there has to be consequences for violations of the law, but I think the idea is appropriate consequences,” Steele said. “And it appears to me Oklahoma has some of the most extensive and egregious fines and fees.”