Civil rights group sues over Oklahoma bail practices

A civil rights group has filed a federal class-action lawsuit against court officials in central Oklahoma, alleging a county's bail system is unconstitutional

OKLAHOMA CITY -- A civil rights group has filed a federal class-action lawsuit against court officials in central Oklahoma, alleging a county's bail system unconstitutionally discriminates against poor and disabled people.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma filed the suit late Tuesday in federal court in Oklahoma City on behalf of six inmates currently being held in the Canadian County jail.

The lawsuit alleges the county's bail system routinely keeps poor people in jail before a trial, not because they are a flight risk or a danger to society but only because they can't afford to pay bail. The suit also alleges inmates aren't provided access to counsel when bail is set, that hearings are taking place in private and that the system unconstitutionally discriminates against people with disabilities.

The suit focuses on Canadian County, but such unconstitutional practices are taking place in counties across the state, said Ryan Kiesel, executive director of ACLU of Oklahoma.

“We are here this morning to put every judicial district on notice that the continued use of unconstitutional bail practices will not be tolerated," Kiesel said.

A telephone message left Thursday with presiding Canadian County District Judge Paul Hesse was not immediately returned.