• Oklahoma lawsuit over debtors' prisons captures national attention

    By: Ashli Lincoln

    Updated:

    Story Highlights

    • Oklahoma funds their criminal justice system through court fines paid by alleged criminals.
    • A lawsuit claims that the move is a "statewide extortion scheme" that is set up to squeeze as much money from the poor as possible.
    • The lawsuit has captured national attention.

    TULSA, Okla. - A follow-up to a FOX23 Investigation revealed a local lawsuit targeting what some say is a “statewide extortion scheme, aimed at targeting impoverished Oklahomans” is getting national attention. 

    FOX23 learned Oklahoma is one of a few states who fund their criminal justice system through court fines paid by the alleged criminals themselves.

    Attorney Dan Smolen says this system is set up to squeeze as much money from the poor as possible.

    FOX23 found out that in the early 1990s, the crime-funded court system came into being after voters approved State Question 640—which removed the funding from the taxpayers and into the hands of criminals.   

    Friday, attorneys filed a document asking the court to halt the execution of warrants against individuals who owe court fees.

    Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection has joined the lawsuit.

    The debt collection agency Aberdeen and the Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association are the accused listed in the lawsuit.

    FOX23 called both and left messages.

    We did find through court documents that Aberdeen filed paperwork asking to have the case dismissed. 

    FOX23 talked to the Tulsa County Court Clerk in November who said they assess to see if a person is eligible to pay a fine before they issue out a warrant.

    Smolen said Oklahoma is the only state to us criminal funded profit on a statewide level.


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