Oklahoma’s district courts are seeing lower collections of fines and fees, which account for more than 80% of the system’s funding.
District courts are on pace to bring in $4 million less this year. Oklahoma Court System Administrator Jari Askins said criminal justice reforms reducing fees levied in some cases are only one of the reasons why.
"The economy is part of why collections are down. I say that from the standpoint of with fewer rigs working, there are fewer people working in the oilfield. So, there are fewer people making the salaries that often enable them to pay toward fines and costs," Askins said.
Poverty, which affects one in six Oklahomans, is also a factor.
"As long as Oklahoma continues to have a high rate of poverty and a high number of people who reach those poverty levels who commit crimes, we are going to find more and more of them determined by the court as unable to pay anything," Askins said.
Criminal justice reform advocates want the state to fund courts primarily out of general revenue, not fines and fees.
As courts collect fewer dollars, Oklahoma lawmakers are being asked to approve a 9.2% raise in district court judicial salaries. That would bring judges in Oklahoma’s strained court system up to the regional average in pay.
If lawmakers decline the raise, the court will need $68.8 million dollars next fiscal year, with $25.8 million from the general revenue fund.
"If the pay increase went into effect, those numbers would change, and it would be a [total budget of $72.5 million] and general revenue would be $29.5 million," Askins said.