Thursday, February 23, 2006

"Bill" of Rights

States are increasingly telling people convicted of crimes to fork over loot just for exercising their right to public defenders, according to the New York Times.

The bills are meant to help states cover the increased cost of the criminal justice system.
National figures concerning fees assessed to criminals are not available, but Washington is something of a case study. The state sends out some 79,000 bills every month, and it collected about $25 million last year. But these collection efforts are barely making a dent in the $1.2 billion owed by former offenders, much of it for the cost of prison room and board, which can reach $50 a day. The budget of the State Department of Corrections for the two-year period ending in 2007 is more than $1.4 billion.
Some people are even stripped of their right to vote until they pay up in full.
Beverly Dubois, a 49-year-old former park ranger in Washington State, spent nine months in jail for growing and selling marijuana. She still owes the state almost $1,900 for court costs and various fees. Until she pays up, the state has taken away her right to vote.
Vanita Gupta from the NAACP notes that the threat of legal bills doesn't just affect people who have actually committed crimes.

"The prospect of having to pay for court costs is going to dissuade some defendants from going to trial," Ms. Gupta said. Even an innocent defendant, she said, may prefer a guilty plea to a trial if the downside includes not only a longer sentence but also a crushing debt.
When the government plays criminal justice bill collector, people are unnecessarily prevented from moving on with their lives, not unlike when they are affected by the HEA Drug Provision or the other bans on public benefits for people with drug convictions.


Jesse Stout said...

"Taken away her right to vote" -- blech! Brown SSDP is assisting the RI Right to Vote campaign, an effort to pass a state constitutional amendment to restore voting rights to probationers and parolees. Check out

800 pound gorilla said...

Unseen by most in the drug reform movement were the recent "reforms" in bankruptcy laws. Not only can very protected financial institutions promote 'easy credit' to working folks, but they can minimize the damage done to them during the inevitable bankruptcy. We are returning to the 'good ole daze' when folks just "owed their souls to the company store".

It's better than slave wage labor that we get by 'outsourcing'. We just shovel mounds of debt on the lower classes and keep them working for 'the man' forever. Of course, they did keep the protections for the 'entrepreneurial class' of bankruptcy filers. If you're investing in the economy then you shouldn't be punished for bad decisions. But if you're a consumer and you overextend yourself to feed your family you show a 'weakness of character'. And isn't that 'weakness of character' stigmatization a key component of the drug war. It's what makes keeping this expensive counterproductive policy so appealing to tax cut activists: socking it to people you don't like.

Kris said...

The effects of public safety spending upon budget crises cannot be addressed by scapegoating people convicted of offenses. The proven solution is to reduce the prison population through alternative sentencing; vocational and educational opportunities for inmates; offense-related counseling; and sensibly targeted parole practices that focus on successful re-entry rather than hair-trigger re-incarceration. Simple principles, but unfortunately these practices hold no value in political campaigns (at least not in California). As a result, related legislation usually falls flat, if it is even ever authored. Best chances come with members that are going to term out, and are in the mood to back something because it is "the right thing to do."

chris said...

They've taken away people's right to vote, until they "pay up"? What happened to the idea behind 'No taxation without representation'?