“I just spent sixty days in the jailhouse / For the crime of having no dough.” ~ The Band, “The Shape I’m In” (1970).
How theoretical is this? Not very:
A debt-collection system in Oklahoma that routinely throws indigent people in jail for failing to pay state court fines and costs is illegal and amounts to an extortion scheme, according to a federal lawsuit filed Thursday.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Tulsa by two Tulsa-based law firms, seeks class-action status on behalf of indigent criminal defendants who “are victims of an extortion scheme in which the defendants have conspired to extract as much money as possible … through a pattern of illegal and shocking behavior.”
The lawsuit names the Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association, every Oklahoma county sheriff and Aberdeen Enterprizes II Inc., a private collections company.
As you might expect, one particular case prompted this lawsuit:
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Ira Lee Wilkins, who is described as an indigent Tulsa man who was represented by the public defender’s office when he pleaded guilty to an unnamed charge in 2015.
A bench warrant was issued about a year later for Wilkins’ arrest after he failed to pay court costs. He is now in a state prison, according to the complaint.
Aberdeen reportedly collects 30 percent of the take, and the state complicates matters by suspending the indigents’ driver’s licenses. Nice little racket, it would seem.