DEMAND PROGRESS:  http://demandprogress.org/

 

 

Tell Your Lawmakers: Shut Down The New Debtors' Prisons

 

Americans are in more debt than ever before, and the banks are going to new extremes to squeeze us for every last penny: If you can't pay up, they'll try to get you locked up.


The Wall Street Journal has been investigating the disturbing resurgence of debtors' prisons throughout America -- here's one especially infuriating example of what the banks are up to: AIG got a $122.8 billion bailout from taxpayers. Jeffrey Stearns happened owed AIG $4,000 on a loan for his pickup truck. How'd the mega-corporation handle his debt? Did they forgive him because of the public's recent largess? No way:They had him arrested in front of his family.


After being handcuffed in front of his four children, Mr. Stearns, 29 years old, spent two nights in jail, where he said he was strip-searched and sprayed for lice. "I didn't even know I was being sued....It's the scariest thing that ever happened to me."

The Wall Street Journal's data reveals that across the country, banks are having tens of thousands of Americans arrested over their debts. What happened to Stearns could happen to almost anybody. Some state legislators are moving to outlaw the practice. Will you urge your lawmakers to join them?


PETITION TO MY STATE LEGISLATORS: The Wall Street Journal is reporting that banks across the country -- including those that got bailouts -- are getting Americans locked up for being unable to pay their debts. I urge you to investigate if and how that's happening here and take measures to end any debt arrests right away.

 

Just sign on at right and we'll automatically send an email to your state legislators.

Here's that recent Wall Street Journal article on the return of debtors' prisons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"I'm just trying to make a way out of no way, for my people" -Modejeska Monteith Simpkins

 

AFRICAN AMERICA IS AT WAR

THERE IS A RACE WAR ON AFRICAN AMERICA

THERE IS A RACE WAR ON AFRICAN AMERICANS

THERE IS A RACE WAR ON BLACK PEOPLE IN AMERICA

AMERICA'S RACISTS HAVE INFILTRATED AMERICAN POLICE FORCES TO WAGE A RACE WAR AGAINST BLACK PEOPLE IN AMERICA

THE BLACK RACE IS AT WAR

FIRST WORLD WAR:  THE APPROXIMATELY 6,000 YEAR WORLD WAR ON AFRICA AND THE BLACK RACE

Original Post

If you think that's bad .....

 

 

 

Probation fees rise, firms profit and poor jailed

 

Courts turn to for-profit businesses that specialize in collections

 

Image: Richard Earl Garrett

 
Richard Earl Garrett is the lead plaintiff in the class actionsuit against the town of Harpersville, Ala. Mr. Garrett has spent a total of 24 months in jail and owes $10,000, all for traffic and license violations that began a decade ago.

By ETHAN BRONNER

 

 

Three years ago, Gina Ray, who is now 31 and unemployed, was fined $179 for speeding. She failed to show up at court (she says the ticket bore the wrong date), so her license was revoked.

 

When she was next pulled over, she was, of course, driving without a license. By then her fees added up to more than $1,500. Unable to pay, she was handed over to a private probation company and jailed — charged an additional fee for each day behind bars.

 

For that driving offense, Ms. Ray has been locked up three times for a total of 40 days and owes $3,170, much of it to the probation company. Her story, in hardscrabble, rural Alabama, where Krispy Kreme promises that “two can dine for $5.99,” is not about innocence.

 

It is, rather, about the mushrooming of fines and fees levied by money-starved towns across the country and the for-profit businesses that administer the system. The result is that growing numbers of poor people, like Ms. Ray, are ending up jailed and in debt for minor infractions.

 

“With so many towns economically strapped, there is growing pressure on the courts to bring in money rather than mete out justice,” said Lisa W. Borden, a partner in Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, a large law firm in Birmingham, Ala., who has spent a great deal of time on the issue. “The companies they hire are aggressive. Those arrested are not told about the right to counsel or asked whether they are indigent or offered an alternative to fines and jail. There are real constitutional issues at stake.”

 

Half a century ago in a landmark case, the Supreme Court ruled that those accused of crimes had to be provided a lawyer if they could not afford one. But in misdemeanors, the right to counsel is rarely brought up, even though defendants can run the risk of jail. The probation companies promise revenue to the towns, while saying they also help offenders, and the defendants often end up lost in a legal Twilight Zone.

 

Here in Childersburg, where there is no public transportation, Ms. Ray has plenty of company in her plight. Richard Garrett has spent a total of 24 months in jail and owes $10,000, all for traffic and license violations that began a decade ago. A onetime employee of United States Steel, Mr. Garrett is suffering from health difficulties and is without work. William M. Dawson, a Birmingham lawyer and Democratic Party activist, has filed a lawsuit for Mr. Garrett and others against the local authorities and the probation company, Judicial Correction Services, which is based in Georgia.

 

“The Supreme Court has made clear that it is unconstitutional to jail people just because they can’t pay a fine,” Mr. Dawson said in an interview.

 

In Georgia, three dozen for-profit probation companies operate in hundreds of courts, and there have been similar lawsuits. In one, Randy Miller, 39, an Iraq war veteran who had lost his job, was jailed after failing to make child support payments of $860 a month. In another, Hills McGee, with a monthly income of $243 in veterans benefits, was charged with public drunkenness, assessed $270 by a court and put on probation through a private company. The company added a $15 enrollment fee and $39 in monthly fees. That put his total for a year above $700, which Mr. McGee, 53, struggled to meet before being jailed for failing to pay it all.

 

“These companies are bill collectors, but they are given the authority to say to someone that if he doesn’t pay, he is going to jail,” said John B. Long, a lawyer in Augusta, Ga., who is taking the issue to a federal appeals court this fall. “There are things like garbage collection where private companies are O.K. No one’s liberty is affected. The closer you get to locking someone up, the closer you get to a constitutional issue.”

 

The issue of using the courts to produce income has caught the attention of the country’s legal establishment. A recent study by the nonpartisan Conference of State Court Administrators, “Courts Are Not Revenue Centers,” said that in traffic violations, “court leaders face the greatest challenge in ensuring that fines, fees and surcharges are not simply an alternate form of taxation.”

 

J. Scott Vowell, the presiding judge of Alabama’s 10th Judicial Circuit, said in an interview that his state’s Legislature, like many across the country, was pressuring courts to produce revenue, and that some legislators even believed courts should be financially self-sufficient.

 

In a 2010 study, the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law examined the fee structure in the 15 states — including California, Florida and Texas — with the largest prison populations. It asserted: “Many states are imposing new and often onerous ‘user fees’ on individuals with criminal convictions. Yet far from being easy money, these fees impose severe — and often hidden — costs on communities, taxpayers and indigent people convicted of crimes. They create new paths to prison for those unable to pay their debts and make it harder to find employment and housing as well as to meet child support obligations.”

 

Most of those fees are for felonies and do not involve private probation companies, which have so far been limited to chasing those guilty of misdemeanors. A decade or two ago, many states abandoned pursuing misdemeanor fees because it was time-consuming and costly. Companies like Judicial Correction Services saw an opportunity. They charge public authorities nothing and make their money by adding fees onto the bills of the defendants.

 

Stephen B. Bright, president of the Southern Center for Human Rights, who teaches at Yale Law School, said courts were increasingly using fees “for such things as the retirement funds for various court officials, law enforcement functions such as police training and crime laboratories, victim assistance programs and even the court’s computer system.” He added, “In one county in Pennsylvania, 26 different fees totaling $2,500 are assessed in addition to the fine.”

 

Mr. Dawson’s Alabama lawsuit alleges that Judicial Correction Services does not discuss alternatives to fines or jail and that its training manual “is devoid of any discussion of indigency or waiver of fees.”

 

In a joint telephone interview, two senior officials of Judicial Correction Services, Robert H. McMichael, its chief executive, and Kevin Egan, its chief marketing officer, rejected the lawsuit’s accusations. They said that the company does try to help those in need, but that the authority to determine who is indigent rests with the court, not the company.

 

“We hear a lot of ‘I can’t pay the fee,’ ” Mr. Egan said. “It is not our job to figure that out. Only the judge can make that determination.” Mr. Egan said his company had doubled the number of completed sentences where it is employed to more than two-thirds, from about one-third, and that this serves the company, the towns and the defendant. “Our job is to keep people out of jail,” he said. “We have a financial interest in getting them to comply. If they don’t pay, we don’t get paid.”

 

Mr. Bright, of the Southern Center for Human Rights, said that with the private companies seeking a profit, with courts in need of income and with the most vulnerable caught up in the system, “we end up balancing the budget on the backs of the poorest people in society.”

 

 

This story, "Probation fees rise, firms profit and the poor go to jail," originally appeared in The New York Times.

  I always THOUGH you couldn't lock a person up just cuz they owe money.  Except for taxes, collection agencies are breaking the law when they say folks can go to jail if fees are not paid.  I saw a show on cable where the collection rep was telling this woman that if she didn't pay, the sheriff will come to her house and tell her to jail.  But that was a lie-a scare tactic to get money....but!  They are NOT suppose to do that.  And I don't know about how the laws work in rural areas, I just know that is considered a federal offense to tell someone on the phone he/she will go to jail if they don't pay a "bill."  So some where in all of this, collection companies are committing a "fraud" or participating in the mispresentation of the law and it is they who should be FINED and sent to jail.  But!

 

I know that it used to be that a person could not be locked up for a debt owed, but now?  These "States" have been quietly making their own laws, many of which are unconstitutional, so it now may depend on exactly which state you happen to live in as to whether or not a creditor can have you locked up.  The same with wage garnishment.  Wage garnishment was made unlawful, now I see, that it is no longer against the law for creditors to garnish people wages.  

Add Reply

Post
×
×
×
×