Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Standard practice

Debtors' prison is actually more common than you might think.
A new book, “A Pound of Flesh,” by Alexes Harris of the University of Washington, notes that these modern debtors’ prisons now exist across America. Harris writes that in Rhode Island in 2007, 18 people were incarcerated a day, on average, for failure to pay court debt, while in Ferguson, Mo., the average household paid $272 in fines in 2012, and the average adult had 1.6 arrest warrants issued that year.

“Impoverished defendants have nothing to give,” Harris says, and the result is a system that disproportionately punishes the poor and minorities, leaving them with an overhang of debt from which they can never escape.
The unusual thing is when someone puts a stop to one.  Or at least tries to.
When poor defendants guilty of minor crimes enter Bogalusa Judge Robert Black's courtroom, they are often met with no quarter, according to a federal lawsuit that accuses Black of running an illegal "modern-day debtors' prison."

It's pay the fine or immediately begin jail time, with little room to negotiate for those who can't afford to pay.

The Southern Poverty Law Center sued Black Tuesday (June 21) in federal court in New Orleans in an attempt to halt that policy, which its lawyers called unconstitutional. They're representing four impoverished defendants worried they'll run afoul of Black at their upcoming hearings.

"Our clients are terrified that they're going to go to jail," SPLC attorney Micah West said.
No guarantee that they actually will succeed, of course. The TP article goes on to point out this is the hot trend in Louisiana just as it is everywhere. 
The case against Black reflects a disturbing trend across Louisiana where small-town courts finance their operations on fees that inherently hit those who can't pay the hardest. The American Civil Liberties Union studied 12 parishes and two cities for a 45-day period in 2014, finding evidence that many places, including New Orleans, arrested and jailed people for unpaid fines.  

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