2021 Press Release


Contact:          Loretta Radford

                        Legal Director, Center for Criminal Justice

                        Oklahoma City University School of Law

                        [email protected]


Oklahoma City – Defendants in Oklahoma pay numerous statutorily mandated fines, costs, and fees, regardless of whether they can pay them. The questions to be asked are why do we continue to trap poor people in the court system with no way out, and why are we asking defendants to finance state agencies and programs that are totally unrelated to the crime they committed? These questions will be examined at Oklahoma Forward: The Price of Punishment, the second seminar sponsored by the Oklahoma City University Law School Center for Criminal Justice, to be held in a virtual webinar on Friday, Jan. 22. The conference is open to the public.

Generally, a misdemeanor conviction is punishable by less than one year in a county jail. In Oklahoma, a misdemeanor conviction is subject to a year in the county jail and a maximum fine of $500.00.

However, the cost of being convicted of a misdemeanor in Oklahoma increases drastically when the costs and fees charged to a defendant are considered. The average cost of fees assessed to a misdemeanor drug defendant in Oklahoma is $850, in addition to any fine assessed, bringing the cost to at least $1,350.

It is estimated that 70% of this criminal debt goes unpaid each year because poor people simply do not have the money, leaving them caught up in a web of debt for years to come and potential warrant arrests for failure to pay fines and costs.

Historically, as budget gaps or added unfunded agency programs burdened the state, it shifted more court costs and fees to defendants to avoid appropriating tax dollars. These fees cover almost every part of the criminal justice process and include anything from court-appointed attorney fees, court clerk fees, late fees, installment fees, and supervision fees to jury fees and various other kinds of administration fees.

Oklahoma Forward: The Price of Punishment” will focus on how exorbitant fines and costs assessments keep poor people trapped in the criminal justice system and cause a lifetime of problems when they are unable to pay the fines and costs assessed against them. This year’s seminar also will focus on the reform needed to change the impact of assessing fines and costs in sentencing, particularly misdemeanor sentencings.

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tony Messenger, a columnist with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, will deliver the keynote address. He is also the author of “Profit and Punishment: How America Criminalizes the Poor in the Name of Poverty,” which is due to be released sometime in late 2021.

Registration for the online seminar is limited and closes January 21, 2020. Visit trueblue.okcu.edu/e/oklahoma-forward-the-price-of-punishment to register. The first 50 registrations will receive a free copy of Punishment Without Crime: How our Massive Misdemeanor System Traps the Innocent and Makes America More Unequal, by Harvard Professor Alexandra Natapoff.

The seminar is sponsored by the Oklahoma City University School of Law Center for Criminal Justice. For more information, visit fb.me/e/14CNodCMe.


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