Law & Principles
Lawmaker says probation fees being diverted
Ray Carter | December 13, 2023
State Rep. Justin Humphrey says fees imposed on individuals released from prison and placed on probation have not been used for oversight of those convicted criminals. Instead, he said the money is being diverted to other uses, and he has asked Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond to investigate.
“Oklahoma has taken money from offenders and offered no behavioral change, no treatment, and no supervision in return,” Humphrey’s letter to Drummond stated. “The lack of criminal supervision has harmed all Oklahomans.”
Humphrey, R-Lane, said a November 2012 court ruling in Mashburn v. Stice held that district attorneys must use money generated by any fee imposed on probationers to pay for actual supervision of those individuals.
“Despite the appellate court’s ruling, the district attorneys continued to collect probation fees and use the fees to fund their offices,” Humphrey wrote.
Since the 2012 court ruling, Humphrey estimates that Oklahoma district attorneys have collected approximately $209 million in probation fees.
Today, Humphrey said the probation fees are collected and then directed to a District Attorneys Council fund, which then directs the money to the state’s general revenue fund, where it is then appropriated back to district attorneys to fund their offices.
Humphrey wrote that looks like “a money laundering scheme.”
“The money appears to have been illegally collected, moved through several accounts, and then washed by transference,” Humphrey wrote.
The lawmaker said he believes district attorneys should be funded appropriately, but that probation fees should be used for supervision of released convicts.
In a Dec. 12 letter of response sent to Drummond, Chirstopher Boring, chairman of the District Attorneys Council, disputed Humphrey’s claims, calling them a “poor interpretation of judicial rulings.”
Boring said the 2012 ruling noted by Humphrey dealt only with “a particular district attorney’s office’s supervision of offenders” and said the case centered on a district attorney office that did not employ a probation officer but instead used a private supervision company. In that case, both the district attorney’s office and the private company were imposing separate supervision fees on the offender, which the court ruled was not appropriate.
“This case had no impact on the many other offices that did maintain an active probation office,” Boring wrote.
In 2013, partially in response to that ruling, Boring said the Oklahoma Legislature approved a law creating a new fee for district attorneys to collect when they used private probation companies.
In 2019, Boring wrote that the Legislature voted to require that probation-supervision fees be deposited in the state’s General Revenue Fund, rather than staying with the district attorney’s office, to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Boring said the law contains no language explicitly guaranteeing that the fee money will be returned to district attorneys.
Boring also said that Oklahoma’s district attorneys have “indicated a willingness—even a preference—to do away altogether” with both district attorneys’ supervision fees and the fees imposed by private supervision companies.
If the Legislature chooses to repeal those fees, “Oklahoma’s district attorneys will not object,” Boring wrote.
Drummond’s office acknowledged receipt of Humphrey’s letter but gave no indication regarding the attorney general’s thoughts on the issue.
“The Attorney General has received the Chairman’s letter and will review,” said Leslie Berger, press secretary for the Office of the Oklahoma Attorney General.
Director, Center for Independent Journalism
Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.