Debtors’ Jails and Prisons

NPR in ALL THINGS CONSIDERED with Audi Cornish, Robert Siegel and Joseph Shapiro has revealed much about the justice system. It is a debtors’ jail and prison for those in poverty. It is hard to believe but nowadays defendants have to pay for every aspect of their court appearance in many states–costs of their own trials and sentences, often including jail time. My stepdaughters, in Calla Lilies: A True Story of Four Sisters and Their Struggle to Survive Abuse, Addiction, and Poverty in America have endured the same injustices. In some states, the warrants for the arrest is even charged to the defendant. And now a new development. Defendants in poverty are having to pay for their public defender. Along with this are a number of other charges: 41 states allow a charge for room and board and in 44 states they can charge for a probation or parole office. My stepdaughters have often had to “sit it out in jail” to pay for their fines and court costs. Many poor people end up having to pay thousands of dollars for misdemeanor cases such as driving with a suspended license, failing to put a kid in a car seat, and public intoxication. I have one stepdaughter who spent a good deal of time paying off her fine AFTER her sentence for public intoxication. In the case of my stepdaughters, all were sexually molested as children in foster homes and I think instead of punishment for misdemeanors, the court should realize that these violations against them is causing their behavior. Where are the counsellors to help so many of these people who have deep-seated problems? How many of the people mentioned in the NPR article “As Court Fees Rise, the Poor Are Paying the Price” also have a background of abuse that needs to be addressed?