American Justice: The Shameful Practice of Criminal Courts

The practice of jailing defendant who can not afford to pay their court fees and fines is both shameful and immoral. Yet, this practice is gaining momentum in several states with Florida anointed as the model state. In one county alone in Florida, Leon, 839 people were arrested and jailed over court debts or failure to appear at Collection Court. Not to be out done, Utah is considering imposing an $8 “conviction fee” to pay for mental detectors and security.

Given the dismal state of the justice system, to impose what is tantamount to a tax on the poorest and least able to pay, in order to fund a system which routinely dishes out unfair and uneven sentences to black, brown and poor people is an affront to our morality and decency. The budget shortfalls which are fueling this outrageous practice could in the words of President Obama present: opportunity- an opportunity to rethink the justice system in more ethical, humane, and beneficial ways to both persons caught up in the system and society. Certainly jailing people for non criminal behavior only adds to overcrowding of jails and the backlog of criminal justice courts, all at an increase cost to system and society.

Our sense of right and our need for more effective and productive institutions, demands that we halt the practice of incarcerating people because of this inability to pay, regardless of their class status. That it is happening to the poor makes it even more compelling that we speak out. In these perilous and uncertain financial times, we must not only reform our economic and health care system, but rethink our justice system so that it reflects our best morals and thinking- putting the interest and fairness of people ahead of money.


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