Auditors are calling on District Attorneys in Oklahoma to hire collection agencies as a means of recovering as much as $56 million in uncollected fees.
The DA’s, however, are resisting against the recommendation, saying that the actual amount that could be collected is far less, and aggressive collection efforts counter reform efforts that have trapped many individuals with debt loads that ultimately put them back in prison if they are not able to make payments.
The $56 million represents the total from 13 of 27 different districts across Oklahoma, and does not include the state’s two largest districts in Tulsa and Oklahoma City, which would likely push that $56 million even higher, auditors said.
Eight other states, including California, Florida, and New Mexico, have contracted with collection agencies to recover unpaid fees, which include supervision fees and “bogus check fees,” according to the report.
If looking at unpaid debts incurred within the past decade, the $56 million drops to $32 million, according to the report, and, even then, about 20% of that total is estimated to be recoverable. But that still amounts to more than $5 million that could be added to the coffers of DA offices’ budgets across the state.
District Attorneys and state lawmakers are interested in recovering the debts, while balancing a desire not to go after individuals who are not able to repay the debts.
“(The auditors) are saying maybe you need a collection agent to go out there and squeeze the last bit of blood out of that turnip,” said Trent Baggett, the executive coordinator of the District Attorney’s Council. “Yet there’s a constant drumbeat now to perhaps do away with some of those fees. So do you go collect them, or do you let it go?”