The United States has reinstated a broad system of debtors’ prisons, in effect making it a crime to be poor. The poor are routinely jailed for being poor. A new book, “A Pound of Flesh,” by Alexes Harris of the University of Washington, notes that these modern debtors’ prisons now exist across America. Harris writes that in Rhode Island in 2007, 18 people were incarcerated a day, on average, for failure to pay court debt, while in Ferguson, Mo., the average household paid $272 in fines in 2012, and the average adult had 1.6 arrest warrants issued that year. “Impoverished defendants have nothing to give,” Harris says, and the result is a system that disproportionately punishes the poor and minorities, leaving them with an overhang of debt from which they can never escape.
A report from the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty that surveyed 187 cities in 2014 shows that although most cities do not provide shelter for the homeless, 53 percent criminalize sitting or lying down in certain public places; 43 percent ban sleeping in a vehicle; and 9 percent even make it a crime to share food with homeless people. Criminalizing poverty and homelessness doesn’t solve any underlying problem, and in fact makes the situation worse.
As mass incarceration became increasingly costly, states and localities shifted the burden to criminal offenders with an explosion in special fees and surcharges.
In Oklahoma, criminal defendants can be assessed 66 different kinds of fees, from a “courthouse security fee” to a “sheriff’s fee for pursuing fugitive from justice,” and even a fee for an indigent person applying for a public defender and if he or she does not pay, an arrest warrant is issued.
Take California, the bastion of liberalism with a government controlled by the Democrats and exceptionally likely to vote Democratic. It costs $30 to get a public defender, $50 to put in a place a payment plan. You can be jailed for tax debts (owed to the Democratic-controlled state) and child support (let's ignore the ability to pay). You can be arrested failing to pay court fees and fines and if you file a lawsuit and can't pay certain court fees, you can be jailed. You can be arrested and jailed for failure to appear at an examination which of course happens routinely because mail doesn't get to homeless people.
Arizona simply tacks an 83% surcharge onto penalties. Thus, a $500 fine actually costs $915. Some of this money isn't even used to support Arizona's criminal justice system. In fact, 10% of it goes to the state's "clean elections" financing program. That's right, candidates for statewide office fund their campaigns with cash from criminals.
Amanda Goleman, 29, grew up in a meth house and began taking illegal drugs at 12, and her education wound down after she became pregnant in the ninth grade. For a time, she and her daughter were homeless. But Goleman has turned herself around. She has had no offenses for almost four years and has been drug-free for three. For the last year, by her account and her employer’s, she has held a steady job in which she has been promoted — but she is still a single mom and struggles to pay old fines while also raising her three children, ages 2, 10 and 13. “It’s either feed my kids or pay the fines,” Goleman said, “but if I don’t pay then I get a warrant.” Four times she has been arrested and jailed for a few days for being behind in her payments; each time, this created havoc with her children and posed challenges for keeping a job.
It's all about profit. These people don't have money, but their bodies represent a lot of money to the legal system. The processing and jailing of these poor people generates jobs for sheriffs, judges, prosecutors, and assorted other lawyers, while being a significant business opportunity for collection agencies and those who operate the jails. Everything in America is about money. Education, health care, politics, policing, justice. The people who are jailed under these "it's against the law to be poor" standards have become pawns in local governments seeking new revenue sources. We need to stop viewing people through the $$$$ glasses and get back to humanity. Socialism is a system whereby all look out for the good of the collective population.