Tuesday, May 26, 2015

america cannot lock its poor people problem away


guardian |  Every day, indigent Americans are ripped from their homes and their communities and forced into jails of varying degrees of dysfunction and decay. The US supreme court ruled three decades ago that it is unconstitutional to imprison people because they cannot afford to pay debts. The ruling, however, hasn’t ended the practice of jailing people for unpaid government fees and fines. 

In 2010, the ACLU found that courts across the nation regularly deny Americans proper consideration of their financial position and throw them into jail over fines they could never hope to pay. As a result, local jails nationwide have transformed into modern-day “debtors’ prisons” overcrowded with indigent people whose only punishable offense is being poor. The effects are devastating. 

This growing phenomenon funnels poor Americans into the criminal justice system with sentences that disrupt their lives, too often trapping them in a damning cycle of poverty and incarceration that far outlasts their initial conviction. These practices have a disparate impact on communities of color in the United States. 

Consider 19-year-old Kevin Thompson, a black teenager in DeKalb County, Georgia, who was jailed simply because he was unable to pay $838 in fines and fees associated with a routine traffic citation. Though only half of DeKalb County’s residents are black, nearly all probationers jailed for failure to pay by its recorders court, which handles minor offenses like traffic misdemeanors, are black. The ACLU filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of Mr Thompson and reached a settlement with the county that included a number of new reform measures aimed at preventing others from facing the same unconstitutional treatment. 

Jail sentences like those imposed on Mr Thompson and Mr Staten aren’t just unjust – they’re also costly. The ACLU’s 2010 report In for a Penny found that individuals incarcerated for failure to pay often cost the state more than they owe. The report identifies one individual whose incarceration in New Orleans cost more than six times his $498 debt. So why are we stuck with this senseless system?

2 comments:

John Kurman said...

As I predicted last year. It's gonna suck. Between that idiot ideologue Rauner, and the idiot Dem assembly, it's all kakistocratic kleptocracy here in ILL. Brownbackistan here we come!

CNu said...

lol, I haven't used that terminology in nearly a decade http://cobb.typepad.com/visioncircle/2005/09/kakistocratic-k.html - and back then it was in reference to the theft of New Orleans...,