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Study: Oklahoma Needs $2.8M to Bring Prosecutor Salaries to National Market Average

Whitney Bryen-Oklahoma Watch

A consulting firm says Oklahoma would need to come up with $2.8 million to bring assistant district attorneys' pay up to the national market average.

First-year ADA salaries are almost $7,000 lower than the national average. After 10 years, the gap is more than $16,000.

Oklahoma's prosecutors could make more in neighboring Arkansas or New Mexico at every stage of their careers. The study shows assistant district attorneys can earn significantly more in those states doing the same job and with similar costs of living.

ACLU Oklahoma Director of Advocacy Nicole McAfee said that’s hard to ignore for someone fresh out of law school, to the detriment of the state’s justice system.

"We would like to keep the best and brightest talent in Oklahoma, and it’s much harder to pull those folks in — especially just given the associated law school debt that we know exists — when the pay is not equal," McAfee said.

The study also puts the average Oklahoma prosecutor’s caseload at more than 1,100.

McAfee said public defenders are similarly overworked and underpaid, meaning a justice system that fast-tracks many defendants for plea deals.

"It also means that we see tactics to make those plea deals as opportunistic as possible. And so, whether that is very high bail amounts, detaining folks in jail pretrial in order to encourage them to plea or just a number of other sort of bad practices," McAfee said.

Changing what assistant district attorneys are paid is up to lawmakers, and the District Attorneys Council is expected to work study recommendations into its fiscal year 2021 budget request.

"But what I hope to see in next steps is similar data assessed for our indigent defense system so that we can have a kind of across-the-board conversation about inequity of resources between prosecution and defense in the state of Oklahoma," McAfee said.

The District Attorneys Council did not fulfill an interview request on Monday.