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Pay the fine or do the time

Jail photToday’s must read is this National Public Radio story on the increasing amount of fees and fines being charged in state criminal justice systems and the impact that’s having on criminal defendants — particularly the poor.

Bottom line: in some cases, the crime won’t land a defendant in jail, but failure to pay the fees just might.

As part of its “Guilty and Charged” series (in conjunction with the Brennan Center for Justice and the National Center for State Courts), NPR found that defendants are charged for many government services that were once free, including those that are constitutionally required. For example:

  • In at least 43 states and the District of Columbia, defendants can be billed for a public defender.
  • In at least 41 states, inmates can be charged room and board for jail and prison stays.
  • In at least 44 states, offenders can get billed for their own probation and parole supervision.
  • And in all states except Hawaii, and the District of Columbia, there’s a fee for the electronic monitoring devices defendants and offenders are ordered to wear.

That includes North Carolina (see this breakdown of states).

Here’s Durham County Chief District Court Judge Marcia Morey (from NCPW’s own series last year on the impact of budget cuts on the courts), discussing how the state is in some ways funding the courts on the backs of those who need their services most through ever-increasing costs and fees:

We say, “okay, you got $250 to do community service, you got $180 to pay for your court costs, you may have a fine, you have attorney’s fees of $55 an hour and a $6 dollar court appointment fee” – add that all up on someone who’s unemployed, mentally ill, charged with a misdemeanor. “And if you don’t pay, you’re going to jail.” What kind of system is that? I mean, of course it’s a revolving door.

 

One Comment


  1. Jim Wiseman

    May 21, 2014 at 12:53 pm

    It’s not just the criminal justice system that makes it hard on the poor. It’s difficult for the financially challenged law-abiding citizen to get through the government-induced maze of hidden taxes, fees, and regulation that stifles those trying to get ahead.

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