This isn’t exactly shocking.
From the article:
No government agency comprehensively tracks the extent of criminal-justice debt owed by poor defendants, but experts estimate that those fines and fees total tens of billions of dollars. That number is likely to grow in coming years, and significantly: National Public Radio, in a survey conducted with the Brennan Center for Justice and the National Center for State Courts, found that 48 states increased their civil and criminal court fees from 2010 to 2014. And because wealthy and middle-class Americans can typically afford either the initial fee or the services of an attorney, it will be the poor who shoulder the bulk of the burden.
“You think about what we want to define us as Americans: equal opportunity, equal protection under the law,” Mitali Nagrecha, the director of Harvard’s National Criminal Justice Debt Initiative, told me. “But what we’re seeing in these situations is that not only are the poor in the United States treated differently than people with means, but that the courts are actually aggravating and perpetuating poverty.”
I have family that are destitute and were in and out of the court system. It is awe inspiring the sheer amount of cash they owe just to weave their way through a run in with the police.
All of them have been in jail more than once because they could not pay the fines. it’s a de facto debtors prison system leveraging the poor to do what they can to pay hefty escalating fines for infractions.
From the article:
Moreover, Karakatsanis argues, jailing poor defendants has proved to be an effective way of raising money. By threatening a defendant with incarceration, a judge is often able to extract cash from a person’s family that might otherwise be difficult to touch. “A typical creditor,” he says, “can’t put you in a steel cage if you can’t come up with the money.”
In 2010, the American Civil Liberties Union detailed evidence of what it calls “modern-day ‘debtors’ prisons’ ” — essentially, courts operating in the same way as Judge Ross’s in Corinth — in Georgia, Michigan, Louisiana, Ohio and Washington State. “If you spent a few weeks driving from coast to coast, you might not find similar policies in place in every single county,” Sam Brooke, the deputy legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s economic-justice program, told me. “But every other county? Probably. This is a massive problem, and it’s not confined to the South. It’s national.”
My father in law, before he passed, got a DUI at some point. It went on for decades after that because he could not pay the fines. Bench warrants were issued. It took us close to 15 years to pay off all the cumulating fines, with two stints in jail. It was only over ten years later serving time in jail not for the initial DUI but for the failure to pay the fines that the actual initial fines passed.
By then he didn’t drink, and we paid thousands and thousands of dollars to get him through the rest of the system to get his license back.
Sure, it was a DUI, but the man was so poor as to be living on less than $2000 a month with only $130 a month for food, for two. A rich man would have paid his fines and been out without jail time.
This was an overarching disaster on my father in laws life for over a decade.
He’s not unique. If you have money, the justice system just passes you through because you can pay. If you can’t pay? You are truly fucked.