TULSA, Okla. — A lawsuit is challenging Oklahoma’s debt-collection system that routinely sends poor people to jail for failing to pay court fines and fees.

The federal lawsuit filed Thursday names the Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association, every county sheriff in the state and Aberdeen Enterprizes, a private collections company, the Tulsa World reported.

The lawsuit alleges constitutional violations in the collection of unpaid court fines and costs imposed by Aberdeen Enterprizes and the Sheriffs’ Association on indigent defendants in criminal cases.

“In the United States of America you can’t put people in jail because they’re too poor, and that’s what’s happening here,” said attorney Dan Smolen.

It alleges that the contract between the collections company and the Sheriffs’ Association violates anti-racketeering statutes as well as other civil rights violations.

“Simply putting somebody back in to custody because they don’t have the money to pay for it is not only detrimental to the poor, I think it’s detrimental to the taxpayers who are having to pay to incarcerate them simply because they are too poor to pay court costs or a fine,” Smolen said.

The lawsuit also accuses the collections company of conspiring to gather court debts in criminal cases by extorting money from poor individuals and threatening them with going to the jail if they don’t comply.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Ira Lee Wilkins, who’s currently in state prison for failing to pay court costs.

Spokesmen from Aberdeen Enterprizes and the Sheriffs’ Association couldn’t be reached for comment by the newspaper.


Information from: Tulsa World, http://www.tulsaworld.com