Point of View: Impacted by the system, now an agent of change
My life has been and continues to be negatively impacted by Oklahoma’s broken bail system. I see daily reminders of the lasting impressions left by each grueling detention or expensive bail set that my family and children were made to suffer through.
When setting a bail amount, my ability to pay was never considered. During my first experience in the system, I was held in the Tulsa County jail for a year before being sentenced and my bond exceeded $50,000. While I suffered during that time in jail, my kids paid the largest price, and my parents who stepped in to care for them. I truly believe that if we were wealthy, I would have been able to pay for my release and afford an attorney at the bail hearing and every step thereafter — my entire experience could have had a vastly different outcome.
I might have lost my children if I didn’t have a supportive mother. My family became in debt financially and my children were traumatized over and over again.
I take full responsibility for the choices I made. There were many underlying issues that led me down this path, and I never had the opportunity to address them due to lack of resources at the time and my inability to afford treatment.
I'm a grateful recipient of a diversion program. We need to help and support Oklahomans. We need to invest in rehabilitation and help put people’s lives together, instead of locking them up.
Oklahoma incarcerates people at the highest rate per capita in the world, with 99 percent of our jail growth in the past 15 years due to pretrial incarceration. Our pretrial incarceration rate is 54 percent higher than the average state. Women carry a large burden of that growth, with 83 percent of them likely to be jailed before trial or sentencing. And it’s creating a never-ending cycle of generations locked in cages, as nearly 80 percent of women in jails nationwide are mothers with minor children.
I dedicate my time to Tulsa Lawyers for Children. I see the effects of the bail industry on those caught in Oklahoma’s foster care system. While mothers in jail face difficulties keeping in touch with their children due to restrictive jail visitation policies and costly phone calls, others risk losing custody of their children because they aren't informed of, or transported to, key custody proceedings.
While bail is supposed to be used to ensure someone accused of a crime returns for their court date, it actually creates two systems of justice, one for those with the financial means to post bail and one for everyone else.
I urge our state’s lawmakers to pass bail reform in Senate Bill 252 and keep communities safer by investing in their fellow Oklahomans. We can do so much better.
Pyles lives in Tulsa.