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Debtor’s prison, sort of

Gazette staff December 4th, 2013

Apparently, Oklahoma City’s leaders enjoy a good merry-go-round ride.

Here’s how it works. Get arrested and booked into jail. Stay one night and you’re billed $117 for that wonderful room and guest service provided by the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Department, which provides questionable accommodations to all those folks arrested by OKC’s finest.

As the guests check out, or bond out, they’re told about the $117 charge and warned they must pay or get their driver’s license revoked.

If they don’t have the money to pay the room rental at that point, what makes city fathers think they’re going to pay it later? Here’s the merry-go-round. Driving with a revoked license, if caught, will earn an OKC citizen another night or more at the jail and a corresponding $117 fee, which, by the way, is way too high for a single night’s stay (or so a friend told us).

Apparently, the ordinance mandating the $117 charge hasn’t been too effective. During the 2012-2013 fiscal year, 12,743 defendants were billed for their jail stay, but only 3,165 (25 percent) have paid up.

The ordinance mandating the $117 charge was passed in 2007 as a way to recover some of the costs associated with housing inmates. That sounds like a business passing on governmentimposed taxes to the consumer. City officials say the $3.2 million collected in the last six years should be doubled, hence the recent push to catch those unlawful fee-breakers.

Filling the county jail with people who haven’t paid their “hotel” bill resembles debtor’s prison. Wasn’t that outlawed by the federal government in 1833?

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