Bill aimed at ending “debtors prisons” (KFOR)

By Kristen Shanahan

OKLAHOMA CITY – Out of jail and in debt.

It is a vicious cycle some argue puts Oklahomans back in the same jail they just got out of.

Jami Hood knows what it is like to spend time behind bars.

She spent months in the Oklahoma County Jail on drug charges.

“You’re stripped of everything that makes you feel like a person, and everything in the world is going on and passing by and it’s all happening without you,” Hood said.

She walked out sober and with about $10,000 dollars in debt. About $5,000 of that was in court costs and fees.

She says she would not have been able to get back on her feet if it were not for her family.

“My family pays all my bills,” Hood admitted.

Advocates say others are not as fortunate as her.

“Thousands of Oklahomans enter the justice system each year and thousands leave with thousands of dollars in debt to the courts that they simply can’t pay,” Ryan Gentzler, with the Oklahoma Policy Institute, said.

Gentzler said that leads to a cycle of incarceration and poverty, ultimately costing taxpayers.

“The rear idea of penalizing someone because of their economic status is simply unacceptable. In statute and in law it is unlawful, but yet in practice it occurs,” Rep. George Young said

Rep. Young said he is introducing a bill that would make it more difficult to jail someone simply because they cannot pay.

“Without a doubt this is a soft on crime bill,” Rep. Scott Biggs said.

Other lawmakers argue the measure is not a solution.

“For every dollar this group wants to give the criminals to lessen their burden that’s a dollar we’re taking from schools. That’s a dollar we’re taking from public safety,” Rep. Biggs argued.

Hood is hoping opponents change their minds.

“So today I urge lawmakers who have the power to give hope back to those who are honestly trying to make it to the finish,”Hood said in a press conference Wednesday afternoon.

Rep. Young said this is his third time to push a bill like this.

We will keep you posted on what happens.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.