Kelley Beaucar Vlahos | Fox News
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…
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…”(Full text at Fox News)
Paco chose to highlight this article as it underscores the absolutely dysfunctional fine, restitution and penalty practices of the criminal justice system.
As a parole agent, I would review the abstract of judgement and other Court documents to assess an offender’s financial liability to the system and victims. Efforts to pay the debt(s) would be documented on the parolee’s discharge review–With the exception of parolees applying for interstate transfer, I can’t recall a single offender who paid up. (The Interstate Compact requires clear fines and restitution to complete a transfer.)
Virtually every offender in the system has an outstanding court fine or fee amounting to (at least) several hundred dollars–A substantial number have fines and restitution orders ranging from a few thousand to several million dollars. Again, few ever pay and, excepting Interstate Transfers, CDCR makes no effort to collect fines or fees.
Add to the mix the fact a majority accrued years of child support obligations during incarceration and it’s clear most parolees are burdened by judicial debts they will never be able to pay–Especially since the DMV suspends the driver’s licenses of child support flake’s at the behest of the county welfare agencies, rendering employment all but impossible.
If society truly wants offenders to reform, we must give them a decent chance. A pile of debt with few job prospects and no drivers license is a recipe for failure.
Perhaps it is time for the Court to means test when assessing fines and penalties. Fining hobos $10,000 is an exercise both in futility and make-work. Disgraced politicians and white-collar criminals who have the means should be the subject of such penalties.
With all due respect and deference to victims of crime but, face it, you will never see a penny of the restitution order. Supposing the creep who stole your life savings actually wanted to make you whole, the criminal justice system is here to prevent it. Then again, if victims are willing to drive their assailants to work…
In a fair world, offenders would have the wherewithal to repay the system and victims alike–In this world the overwhelming majority can do neither, and never will.