Our justice system is far from perfect, we see this obvious stain from the amount of people we jail everyday; often on offenses that harm no one.
What is worse is we have an obvious two-tiered justice system, where massive numbers of people who end up in jail are there because they could not pay a fine. So they end up with more fines, in jail, costing the taxpayers unnecessary money.
“A debtors' prison is a prison for people who are unable to pay debt. These prisons have been used since ancient times. Through the mid 19th century, debtors' prisons were a common way to deal with unpaid debt in Western Europe. Though increasing access and lenience throughout the history of bankruptcy law have rendered debtors' prisons irrelevant over most of the world, as of May 2013, they persist in countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong, Greece, and the United States.”
“Supreme Court Ruling Not Enough To Prevent Debtors' Prisons”
“That decision came in a 1983 case called Bearden v. Georgia, which held that a judge must first consider whether the defendant has the ability to pay, but "willfully" refuses.”
“However, the Supreme Court didn't tell courts how to determine what it means to "willfully" not pay. So it's left to judges to make the sometimes difficult calculations.”
“An NPR news investigation has found there are wide discrepancies in how judges make those decisions. And everyday, people go to jail because they failed to pay their court debts.”
“"It's not that it's wrong to charge people money as a way to punish them," says Miriam Aukerman, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan. "But there have to be alternatives for people who can't pay. And that alternative cannot be: incarceration if you're poor, payment if you're rich."”
“She faults judges for not doing enough to find alternatives to fees for impoverished defendants, such as assigning more community service or even waiving some fines and fees.”
“NPR surveyed laws in 50 states and the District of Columbia and found that defendants get charged for a long list of government services that were once free — including ones that are constitutionally required.”
“When people struggle to pay those fees, they have violated probation and can go to jail. The practice is called "pay or stay" — pay the fine or stay in jail.
Please listen to the Stephen Papa case: http://www.npr.org/2014/05/19/310710716/profiles-of-those-forced-to-pay-or-stay
“Papa was a homeless veteran of the Iraq War, who was living on friends' couches.”
“When he appeared in court the month after his arrest, the judge expected him to pay an installment on the $2,600 he owed in restitution, fines and court fees. The judge wanted $50, but Papa had only brought $25 to court that day.”
Read the whole thing here: http://www.npr.org/2014/05/21/313118629/supreme-court-ruling-not-enough-to-prevent-debtors-prisons
Have you ever had a credit card that you were late on paying, and then the credit card company adds more fees than you actually owed on the card? Imagine the credit card debt equates to jail time, and when you get out of jail you get a bill for your time in jail; and by the way you are also unemployed.
My bringing this up is not going solve this problem, but I do hope it brings awareness to the fact that being more in this country can be a crime, both socially and criminally, and that is not justice.
Dr Flavius A B Akerele III