DOJ Warns of Jailing Poor People For Not Paying Fines

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According to CNN, the Justice Department sent out new guidelines to state and municipal court systems directing them to cease the incarceration of poor people for unpaid court fines for minor offenses. This is “intended to address some of the most common practices that run afoul of the United States Constitution and/or other federal laws,” according to the letter sent out on Monday.

Officials are also trying to stop the use of these court fines as a source of income for some municipalities.

These new guidelines stem from the wake of the Ferguson riots, in which poverty-stricken people were jailed for not paying fines for traffic violations and other minor offenses. This has been leading to people losing their jobs and homes because they were in jail for an unpaid fine that they simply couldn’t afford.

The Justice Department is also providing $2.5 million in grants to help local jurisdictions test new ways to enforce court fines and assessments.

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Among the new guidelines are:

•Court systems shouldn’t jail people for nonpayment of fees and fines without first establishing that nonpayment is willful and not just the result of indigence.

•Courts must consider alternatives to incarceration for indigent defendants who can’t pay fines.

•Arrest warrants and license suspensions shouldn’t be used routinely as a way to coerce payment of court debt.

•Bail and bonds regulations shouldn’t cause poor defendants from remaining in jail solely because they can’t afford to pay for release.

PUBLIC NOTE: The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the Urban Intellectuals, affiliates or partners.

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