Author Topic: Local courts reviving 'debtors' prison' for overdue fines, fees  (Read 285 times)

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Offline flowers

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Local courts reviving 'debtors' prison' for overdue fines, fees
« on: December 25, 2013, 04:19:16 PM »
http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2013/12/25/local-courts-reviving-debtors-prison-for-overdue-fines-fees/

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As if out of a Charles Dickens novel, people struggling to pay overdue fines and fees associated with court costs for even the simplest traffic infractions are being thrown in jail across the United States.

Critics are calling the practice the new "debtors' prison" -- referring to the jails that flourished in the U.S. and Western Europe over 150 years ago. Before the time of bankruptcy laws and social safety nets, poor folks and ruined business owners were locked up until their debts were paid off.

Reforms eventually outlawed the practice. But groups like the Brennan Center for Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union say it's been reborn in local courts which may not be aware it's against the law to send indigent people to jail over unpaid fines and fees -- or they just haven't been called on it until now.

Advocates are trying to convince courts that aside from the legal questions surrounding the practice, it is disproportionately jailing poor people and doesn't even boost government revenues -- in fact, governments lose money in the process.

"It's a waste of taxpayer resources, and it undermines the integrity of the justice system," Carl Takei, staff attorney for the ACLU's National Prison Project, told FoxNews.com.

"The problem is it's not actually much of a money-making proposition ... to throw people in jail for fines and fees when they can't afford it. If counties weren't spending the money jailing people for not paying debts, they could be spending the money in other ways."

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University's School of Law released a "Tool Kit for Action" in 2012 that broke down the cost to municipalities to jail debtors in comparison with the amount of old debt it was collecting. It doesn't look like a bargain. For example, according to the report, Mecklenburg County, N.C., collected $33,476 in debts in 2009, but spent $40,000 jailing 246 debtors -- a loss of $6,524.

Fines are the court-imposed payments linked to a conviction -- whether it be for a minor traffic violation like driving without a license or a small drug offense, all the way up to felony. Fees are all those extras tacked on by the court to fund administrative services. These vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, with some courts imposing more than others.

As states and counties grapple with shrinking budgets and yearly shortfalls, new fees are often imposed to make up the difference, though they can be quite overwhelming to individuals passing through the system -- 80 percent of whom qualify as indigent (impoverished and unable to pay), according to the Brennan Center. Florida, for example, has added 20 new fees since 1996, according to the center. North Carolina imposes late fees on debt not paid and surcharges on payment plans.

More and more, courts are dragging people in for fines and fees that have ballooned due to interest imposed on the initial sums. Some owe money to the public defender's office for the representation they received during their time in court. Others incur hundreds of dollars in fees while they're incarcerated -- for everything from toilet paper to the beds inmates sleep on.


Offline Chieftain

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Re: Local courts reviving 'debtors' prison' for overdue fines, fees
« Reply #1 on: December 25, 2013, 04:47:04 PM »
Out here the County Court system hands out "Public Service" for various offenses, and that means you are out on Saturday mornings with a work crew cleaning public areas, raking leaves, trimming bushes, cleaning up dog crap, removing trash from beside the highway...not sure what the fine structure is here, but those work crews know better than to miss a session, and they do get an amazing amount of work done.


Offline Oceander

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Re: Local courts reviving 'debtors' prison' for overdue fines, fees
« Reply #2 on: December 25, 2013, 05:56:22 PM »
Out here the County Court system hands out "Public Service" for various offenses, and that means you are out on Saturday mornings with a work crew cleaning public areas, raking leaves, trimming bushes, cleaning up dog crap, removing trash from beside the highway...not sure what the fine structure is here, but those work crews know better than to miss a session, and they do get an amazing amount of work done.



Public service would generally be a far, far better punishment than monetary fines.


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