AMERICA HAS TURNED EVIL ! See the "Guilty of Being Poor LAWS, see actual Americans JAILED for poverty! An AMERICAN HORROR STORY!" OUR COUNTRY HAS STARTED DOING THINGS BEYOND GUANTANAMO TORTURE CHAMBER in their IMPLICATIONS. HEARTLESS COURTS, JUDGES, LAWS.
April 25, 2009
The jailers of the 19th century - even in the pre-Civil War South - largely abandoned the practice of imprisoning people for falling into debt as counterproductive and ultimately barbaric. In the 1970s and '80s, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that incarcerating people who can't pay fines because of poverty violates the U.S. Constitution. Welcome to the debtors' prisons of the 21st century. Apparently, though, some states and county jails never got the memo. Welcome to the debtors' prisons of the 21st century. "Edwina Nowlin, a poor Michigan resident, was ordered to reimburse a juvenile detention center $104 a month for holding her 16-year-old son," the New York Times wrote in an editorial. "When she explained to the court that she could not afford to pay, Ms. Nowlin was sent to prison. The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, which helped get her out last week after she spent 28 days behind bars, says it is seeing more people being sent to jail because they cannot make various court-ordered payments. That is both barbaric and unconstitutional." The details of Nowlin's case are even more alarming than the Times editorial suggests. Not only was Nowlin under orders to pay a fine stemming from someone else's actions, but she had been laid off from work and lost her home at the time she was ordered to "reimburse" the county for her son's detention.
Despite her inability to pay, she was held in contempt of court and ordered to serve a 30-day sentence. On March 6, three days after she was incarcerated, she was released for one day to work. She also picked up her paycheck, in the amount of $178.53. This, she thought, could be used to pay the $104, and she would be released from jail.
But when she got back to the jail, the sheriff told her to sign her check
over to the county - to pay $120 for her own room and board, and $22 for a
drug test and booking fee.
Even more absurd, Nowlin requested but was denied a court-appointed lawyer.
So because she was too poor to afford a lawyer and denied her constitutional
right to have the court provide one for her, she couldn't fight the contempt
charge that stemmed from her poverty. And her contempt conviction only added
to her poverty, as the fines and fees she was obligated to pay now
"Like many people in these desperate economic times, Ms. Nowlin was laid off
from work, lost her home and is destitute," said Michael Steinberg, legal
director of the Michigan ACLU. "Jailing her because of her poverty is not
only unconstitutional, it's unconscionable and a shameful waste of
resources. It is not a crime to be poor in this country, and the government
must stop resurrecting debtor's prisons from the dustbin of history."
Michigan isn't the only place where you can be imprisoned for the crime of
involuntary poverty. The same Catch-22 ensnares poor defendants daily in
courtrooms across the country.
In 2006, the Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR) filed a suit on behalf
of Ora Lee Hurley, who couldn't get out of prison until she had enough money
to pay a $705 fine. But she couldn't pay the fine because she had to pay the
Georgia Department of Corrections $600 a month for room and board, and spend
$76 a month on public transportation, laundry and food.
She was released five days a week to work at the K&K Soul Food restaurant,
where she earned $6.50 an hour, which netted her about $700 a month after
taxes. Hurley was trapped in prison for eight months beyond her initial
120-day sentence until the Southern Center intervened. Over the course of
her incarceration, she earned about $7,000, but she never had enough at one
time to pay off her $705 fine.
"This is a situation where if this woman was able to write a check for the
amount of the fine, she would be out of there," Sarah Geraghty, a SCHR
lawyer, told the Atlanta Journal Constitution while Hurley was still
imprisoned. "And because she can't, she's still in custody. It's as simple
Georgia also lets for-profit probation companies prey on people too poor to
pay their traffic violations and court fees. According to a 2008 SCHR report
entitled "Profiting from the poor":
In courts around Georgia, people who are charged with misdemeanors and
cannot pay their fines that day in court are placed on probation under the
supervision of private, for-profit companies until they pay off their fines.
On probation, they must pay these companies substantial monthly "supervision
fees" that may double or triple the amount that a person of means would pay
for the same offense.
For example, a person of means may pay $200 for a traffic ticket on the
day of court and be done with it, while a person too poor to pay that day is
placed on probation and ends up paying $500 or more for the same offense.
The privatization of misdemeanor probation has placed unprecedented law
enforcement authority in the hands of for-profit companies that act
essentially as collection agencies. These companies, focused on profit
rather than public safety or rehabilitation, are not designed to supervise
people or connect them to services and jobs. Rather, they charge exorbitant
monthly fees and use the threat of imprisonment and a variety of bullying
tactics to squeeze money out of the men and women under their supervision.
For too many poor people convicted of misdemeanors, our state is not
living up to the constitutional promise of equal justice under law.
In Gulfport, Miss., the municipal court started a "fine collection task
force" to crack down on people who owed fees for misdemeanors. According to
the SCHR Web site:
The task force trolled through predominantly African American
neighborhoods, rounding up people who had outstanding court fines. After
arresting and jailing them, the City of Gulfport processed these people
through a court proceeding at which no defense attorney was present or even
Many people were jailed for months after hearings lasting just seconds.
While the city collected money, it also packed the jail with hundreds of
people who couldn't pay, including people who were sick, physically disabled
and/or limited by mental disabilities.
The disregard of the justice system for the rights of poor people to equal
protection and due process is cause for outrage. But it shouldn't come as a
surprise in an era when the government spends billions bailing out banks
while letting foreclosures and unemployment ruin the lives of working
We need to build a movement, like the working-class struggles of the 1930s,
that can demand an end to the inhuman practice of incarcerating people for
no other crime than finding themselves at the bottom of the social ladder.
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