FOX23 Investigation: Are fines sending Tulsans to jail?

by: Ashli Lincoln Updated:

Quick Facts:

  • Defense attorney Jill Webb says the Tulsa County Public Defender’s Office is creating debtors' prisons for poor people getting misdemeanor and traffic tickets.
  • Webb says these people can’t pay their fines and that court costs and are landing them in jail, which can cause them to lose their jobs or make it hard to find work
  • She says Tulsa County judges were violating a state law by issuing a high number of failure to pay warrants
  • The Tulsa Public Defenders’ Office sent a memo to judges earlier this year that led to a reduction in the number of failure to pay warrants
  • Officials said they also implemented a number of programs and resources to help people pay fines
  • In April 2017 the public defender’s office noticed Tulsa County judges issued a high volume of failure to pay warrants.
  • Tulsa County Clerk Don Newberry told FOX23 the state holds Rule 8 hearings to determine if people can pay fines before they are sent to jail, he also says people have two years to pay before the fines goes to a collection agency, Aberdeen
  • Newberry says since the change this year the county has taken extra steps to help indigent people pay their fines off. Newberry says they have jail programs to help pay a person’s bond and have a specialized reduced bond an indigent person can request
  • He also said the county plans on having another amnesty day to help people get caught up on their payments. The last one was this past summer. Newberry says prior to this year an amnesty day hasn’t been done in more than 10 years.  
  • WATCH FOX23 Ashli Lincoln's full report above.

The county system to determine if a person can pay their fines follows this pattern:

Trial-> report to court in 180 days-> Rule 8 hearing-> set payment plan-> missed payments leads to warrant

Take a look at 2016 compared to year to date 2017:

 

Here's a closer look at the number of failure to pay warrants issued in recent years: 

Month

2014

2015

2016

2017

January

1552

499

694

1304

February

1104

379

430

822

March

1028

774

470

365

April

774

573

935

5

May

1733

947

1785

21

June

2961

1118

1442

157

July

567

709

1010

279

August

132

587

1092

373

September

160

768

1411

237

October

846

1120

1597

75

November

761

810

1368

 

December

401

873

2254

 

FTP warrants 

12,019

9,157

14,488

3,638

 

The Tulsa County Court Clerk’s Office is holding a canned food drive amnesty to remove Failure to Pay warrants.

From November 20th and November 22nd individuals can have their Tulsa County failure to pay warrant recalled when they bring in a bag of at least 10 nonperishable items and structure a new payment plan. The food donations will benefit the Tulsa Area United Way.

Those with failure to pay warrants can go to the Cost Administration desk within the Court Clerk’s office (at 500 South Denver) during the amnesty period from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Individuals can look at their case file at www.oscn.net. 

 

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