“You Miss So Much When You’re Gone”- The Lasting Harm of Jailing Mothers Before Trial in Oklahoma

This report provides a brief history on the disproportionate rise of women’s incarceration in the US and in Oklahoma before explaining four kinds of barriers that prevent mothers from returning to normalcy after they come into contact with the system, with a particular focus on fines and fees. Based on interviews with key stakeholders, desk research, and an analysis of public information, the authors found that jailed mothers often feel an added, and unique, pressure to plead guilty so they can be released and return home to care for their children. Finally, the report makes several recommendations for justice system actors in Oklahoma and for the federal government. 

You can read the full text of the report here

Key Findings
  • “In 1970, the pretrial incarceration rate for women in Oklahoma was 11.8 per 100,000 (95 women)—this rate swelled to 151.4 per 100,000 in 2015 (1,905 women)”
  • “Despite significant growth in fees and growing caseloads, criminal justice debt collections have remained essentially unchanged between 2003 and 2015 in Oklahoma”
  • Many women exiting Oklahoma jails are charged “jail stay fees,” fees for medical expenses that accrued while incarcerated, and other court costs such as supervision fees that hinder successful reentry 
  • Because much of Oklahoma lacks reliable public transportation, driver’s license suspensions for nonpayment make it difficult for mothers to drive to work, school, doctor’s appointments, or parenting classes
  • Substantially reduce fines and eliminate fees 
  • When decisions are made to reduce fines and fees, require courts to consider a defendant’s primary caregiver status 
  • Appropriate funding to assist parents who are unable to afford fees required to access services mandated by child welfare reunification plans 
  • Require inquiries into a jailed parent’s ability to pay for and access courses, drug testing, and related programs before they are mandated by a child welfare reunification plan 
Jasmine Sankofa, Aryeh Neier Fellow with the US Program at Human Rights Watch and the Human Rights Program at the American Civil Liberties Union