2013-04-24 "Making poverty a crime"
by Jim Hightower [http://www.standard.net/stories/2013/04/24/making-poverty-crime]:
OtherWords columnist Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He's also editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown. OtherWords.org
Ebenezer Scrooge, the Dickens character, perfectly personified the nasty rich. For example, when asked to make a charitable donation for people trapped in poverty, Scrooge curled his lip in contempt and snarled: “Are there no prisons?”
Blessedly, our American society has progressed well past such heartless disdain. Unless, of course, you happen to be poor in Ohio. Or Georgia. Or in the nationwide utopia envisioned by Newt Gingrich.
Ohio’s Civil Liberties Union recently issued a report documenting the Scroogian return of debtors’ prisons after finding that municipal courts in that state are jailing poor people unable to pay court fines. Last summer, a suburban Cleveland court threw 45 people in jail because they couldn’t come up with the money for fines they were assessed, and the Sandusky Municipal Court imprisoned 75 down-and-outers for the same “crime.”
Besides the fact that jailing indigents for debts cost the courts way more than the fines they owe, it also violates the U.S. and Ohio constitutions.
But what the hey — on to Georgia, which has enhanced the debtor prison experience by privatizing it.
Say you roll through a stop sign. Uniquely, the Peach Tree State counts that as a criminal offense.
Now, say you can’t pony up the full fine. Suddenly, you’re in the clutches of a for-profit, private probation corporation. It charges probationers a $15 “start-up” fee, a $25 photo fee, and a myriad of other fees — on top of the fine they owe. Fail to pay, go to jail.
Where did this rip-off system come from? A private probation outfit bribed the head of Georgia’s Board of Pardons to get it passed.
And don’t forget Newt! During his failed campaign for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, the former House Speaker said America needs to bring back workhouses for welfare children. Neat, huh? Let’s criminalize poverty. That’ll teach ‘em.
2013-04-04 "ACLU Report Exposes Debtors’ Prison Practices in Ohio; Investigation into Eleven Ohio Counties Finds Seven Are Illegally Jailing People for Inability to Pay Fines"
Nick Worner, ACLU of Ohio, 216-474-2220
Meghan Groob, ACLU National, 202-715-0830, email@example.com
CLEVELAND - April 4 - The U.S. Constitution and Ohio state law prohibit courts from jailing people for being too poor to pay their legal fines, but in several Ohio counties, local courts are doing it anyway. The ACLU of Ohio today released The Outskirts of Hope, a report that chronicles a nearly yearlong investigation into Ohio’s debtors’ prisons and tells the stories of six Ohioans whose lives have been damaged by debtors’ prison practices.
The report can be read here: http://www.acluohio.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/TheOutskirtsOfHope2013_04.pdf
“Being poor is not a crime in this country,” said Rachel Goodman, Staff Attorney at the ACLU Racial Justice Program. “Incarcerating people who cannot afford to pay fines is both unconstitutional and cruel—it takes a tremendous toll on precisely those families already struggling the most.”
The law requires that courts hold hearings to determine defendants’ financial status before jailing them for failure to pay fines, and defendants must be provided with lawyers for these hearings. If a defendant cannot pay, the court must explore options other than jail.
“Supreme Court precedent and Ohio law make clear that local courts and jails should not function as debtors’ prisons,” said Carl Takei, Staff Attorney at the ACLU National Prison Project. “Yet many mayors’ courts and some municipal courts jail people without making any attempt whatsoever to determine whether they can afford to pay their fines.”
Beyond the questions of legality, debtors’ prison practices make no financial sense since courts routinely spend more to jail defendants than they would recover in fines.
“Not only are these courts violating the law, they are actually losing money doing it,” said ACLU Director of Communications and Public Policy Mike Brickner. “In every case we profiled for The Outskirts of Hope, the county spent more money than it collected to incarcerate people for failure to pay fines. In many cases, it spent more than the defendant owed in the first place.”
“These practices are legally prohibited, morally questionable, and financially unsound. Nevertheless, they appear to be alive and well in Ohio,” added Brickner. “It’s like something out of a Charles Dickens novel.”
In conjunction with the release of The Outskirts of Hope, the ACLU has sent letters to seven Ohio courts, calling for an immediate end to these illegal debtors’ prison practices. In response to a letter sent by the ACLU, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio expressed appreciation for the investigation and indicated interest in meeting to discuss the issue.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.