A new report by the ACLU reveals that “debtors’ prisons” in Ohio. The phrase refers to the practice of imprisoning someone for the failure to pay fines. This practice is in violation of the U.S. Constitution. Still, people who can’t afford to pay fines issued in response to traffic violations or misdemeanors are being routinely imprisoned in at least 7 out of 11 counties studied.The ACLU report referred to:
An investigation found that as many as 22% of the bookings in Huron were for failure to pay a fine, usually coded as “contempt.” Typically this resulted in a 10 day incarceration. The state would then charge them fees related to being jailed, making it even more unlikely that a person would be able to pay.
Debtors’ prison practices violate the Constitution. Over two decades ago, the U.S. Supreme Court banned the practice of jailing individuals who are unable to pay their fines and court costs.Here's a report the ACLU released in 2010 about the same thing. Five states were studied: Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Washington state.
• Debtors’ prison practices also violate Ohio law. The Ohio Constitution, Ohio Revised Code, and the decisions of Ohio courts prohibit incarcerating indigent defendants for failure to pay their fines.
• The law requires a meaningful hearing into an individual’s financial resources before the court may impose jail time for failure to pay fines.
Although states and counties view LFOs [legal financial obligations] as much-needed revenue, they do not systematically gather and produce data showing that their efforts to collect unpaid legal debts actually make money. In fact, incarcerating indigent defendants unable to pay their LFOs often ends up costing much more than states and counties can ever hope to recover.And then there's the way debtor's prison ends up being used as a way for one government program to grab money from another:
In Washington, Hispanic defendants generally receive higher LFOs than white defendants convicted of similar offenses, and persons convicted of drug offenses receive significantly higher LFOs than those convicted of violent crimes.
Mr. Perrymon was arrested on March 10. During Mr. Perrymon’s status hearing on March 23, his public defender argued that because he had no money with which to pay, he should be released from jail—but the commissioner presiding over the hearing responded that someone in Mr. Perrymon’s family should be able to make a payment. Mr. Perrymon’s attorney called his client’s family members and his girlfriend, but no one was able to pay. Mr. Perrymon was sent back to jail.
To fulfill her LFO obligation, Ms. Young performed community service at an elderly living center. Then, the day before her LFO payments were due, her probation officer told her that her community service time would not count because the center was not nonprofit.
the assessment of lawyer fees have no relationship to—and are often much higher than—the actual cost of representation. Ms. Slomski notes that in her experience, defendants have been charged $400 to $500 in counsel fees when the attorney was actually paid $75.
Sr. Fritz has also seen women charged almost $10,000 in “tether fees”— parole supervision fees charged by the Michigan Department of Corrections at approximately $95 per week for two years. Nonpayment of these fees is reported to credit bureaus, thereby decreasing the released prisoner’s chance of finding a job and a place to live.
The Family Independence Program (FIP) [...] provides funds to low-income families with minor children to help them pay for living expenses such as rent, heat, utilities, clothing, and food and personal care items. Attorney Jennifer Fiess, who has worked in legal aid for years and recently has substitute-taught in alternative high schools, notes that the mothers of many of the children she teaches have spent chunks of their FIP income on court costs to prevent their child from going to jail for nonpayment of fines.
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