Quote of the day – August 30, 2012
Across the country, states and local governments are raising and aggressively collecting criminal fees and fines (including court fees, jail stay fees, and even public defender fees). Often, failing to pay these fees lands people in jail. Courts are supposed to hold hearings to determine whether a person has the means to pay before punishing them for nonpayment. Instead, courts are bypassing this key constitutional safeguard and simply jailing those who can’t pay their fees.
At the same time, private companies and collection agencies are increasingly using state courts to collect civil debts (like loan payments and medical bills). They file lawsuits against debtors and often fail to serve them with notice of court dates or intentionally serve them at incorrect addresses. When debtors do not show up, agencies procure arrest warrants from courts, leading to incarceration of the debtors. Bail is usually set at an amount equal to or higher than the original fees and fines they defendants couldn’t pay in the first place. All this has amounted to a return of debtor’s prisons, which the Supreme Court has found unconstitutional.
- An excerpt from a piece by Nimai Chettiar, a Leadership Fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund and Director of the Justice Program at the Brennan Center for Justice.: “Fees, Fines, and Debt: How Governments and Companies are Jailing Poor People to Make a Buck” at Thinkprogress.com