Cell Phones in Prison

The razor wire fence at the Dick Conner Correctional Center in Hominy. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World

For many convicted felons, the fines and fees from court cases have built insurmountable obstacles such as obtaining a driver’s license.

Last week, Rep. Nicole Miller of Edmond hosted an interim study before the House Public Safety Committee focused on the driver’s license problem.

A constituent told of her stepson’s 15-year battle to obtain a license after a conviction on a simple drug possession. That charge would now be considered a misdemeanor.

The 2004 conviction led to the suspension of his license. To get it reinstated would have cost $2,100 and 60 hours of courses, which required transportation to attend. It had to be completed within six months.

Unable to afford the cost or logistically get to the classes, he was unable to finish his training to become an electrician or get a job.

His stepmother, Judy Mullen Hopper, said this cycle led to discouragement and hopelessness — common among people who have lost their licenses.

Testimony included others who had problems managing the bureaucracy and costs.

One woman was not aware of a 10-day appeal process from the time of her DUI charge. She later entered a rehab program but still could not afford the $1,800 to install a breathalyzer in her car, as required by the court.

An employer spoke about the struggles seen among former inmates unable to get a driver’s license. They often are limited to where they can walk, especially in rural or suburban areas that don’t have public transportation.

Oklahoma lawmakers can fix this.

Ongoing criminal justice reform is tackling the fees and fines assessed by courts to determine fairness and equity. Amounts ought not create debtors prisons or deepen poverty.

A system that financially handcuffs those who have served their time in prison doesn’t solve problems, the inmate’s or the state’s.

Reasonable steps can be taken to ensure the safety of the community and create a navigable pathway to driver’s license reinstatement.

We applaud Miller for bringing this issue to the public’s attention and look forward to her promise to address the issue in legislation next year.

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