Debtors prisons were supposedly banned in the United States under federal law in 1853 and in 1983, the US Supreme Court rule unanimously ruled that only “willful” non-payers (those with the means to pay who refuse to) could be incarcerated for nonpayment. The recent report from the Department of Justice on the city of Ferguson, Missouri revealed a pattern of abusive use of municipal fines that put a heavy burden on the poor and black population of the city. It resulted in the resignation of municipal court Judge Ronald Brockmeyer and the transfer of all the city’s cases to the St. Louis County circuit court. It also put the spotlight on the modern version of debtor’s prisons run by states and cities around the country.
Help John Oliver #ShutDownTheF**kBarrel
By Ed Nazza, The Huffington Post
Fees from traffic tickets and other minor offenses are often a major source of revenue for many communities. But what happens when you can’t afford to pay even a small penalty?
In some cases, you don’t work off the fine with community service. Instead, you could find yourself trapped inside what John Oliver calls “the fuck barrel.” [..]
We cannot have a system where committing a minor violation can end up putting you in — and I’m going to use a legal term of art here — the fuck barrel,” Oliver said. “We can’t have that. And it might be time that we all stood up and said so.”
Check out the clip above to learn more and to see the stirring ad Oliver’s team created to push the effort to #ShutDownTheFuckBarrel.
If you have money, committing a municipal violation may pose you a minor inconvenience. If you don’t, it can ruin your life.
“Most Americans drive to work,” he explained. “If you can’t do that, you’ve got a problem. In New Jersey, a survey of low-income drivers who had their license suspended found that 64 percent had lost their jobs as a result, which doesn’t help anyone. You need them to pay their fine but you’re taking away their means of paying it. That’s the most self-defeating idea since gay conversion camp!”
For-Profit Company Threatened To Jail People For Not Paying Traffic Fines, Lawsuit Says
By Ben walsh, The Huffington Post
The pitch is simple: For no cost, a private company will help collect fines and fees owed to cities. These for-profit firms, called probation services companies, don’t charge cities anything.
Instead, these companies put citizens who can’t afford to pay fines, such as traffic tickets, on payment plans that slam them with exorbitant fees, and then illegally threaten people with jail time if they fail to make payments, according to a federal lawsuit filed Thursday by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The lawsuit alleges that an Atlanta-based company called Judicial Correction Services (JCS) and the city of Clanton, Alabama, violated federal racketeering law and Alabama state law by putting citizens on what is known as “pay-only probation” — basically, threatening citizens with jail time if they can’t pay fees and fines. [..]
Municipal use of private companies to collect the fines appears to be on the rise due to many cities’ increasing strapped finances. Smaller budgets can mean that when cities look to raise funds, they don’t have the resources to collect those fines themselves. Overall, however, strong historical data about the use of these practices does not exist because these private probation companies largely deal with city or county courts and are generally not transparent with their business practices.
The number of individual cases assigned to private probation services companies by those court systems is staggering. The New York Times’ Thomas Edsall noted that the HRW report found that in “Georgia in 2012, in ‘a state of less than 10 million people, 648 courts assigned more than 250,000 cases to private probation companies.'”
Not only does this system destroy the lives of people who are struggling to just survive, it also costs tax payers thousands of dollars to incarcerate them. So what is the purpose of these contracts, other than line the pockets of private debt collection agencies and private prison company executives. So yes, let’s #ShutDownTheF**kBarrel.