Really, in 2014?! being too poor to pay a traffic ticket is still putting people behind bars?
All across the country, we’re seeing the rise of modern day debtors’ prisons: a cruel system that jails people for being too poor to pay sometimes very minor fines and fees. A small traffic fine can force a choice between putting food on the table and going to jail. The impact on communities, especially low-income communities of color, is devastating.
What makes the problem even worse are for-profit companies trying to make bank off of those who can least afford it. Take for-profit probation, for example. Our courts are putting hundreds of thousands of people* on probation every year simply because they cannot afford to pay court fines and fees. These courts hand people over to private, for-profit companies who charge them exorbitant fees for their own so-called “supervision,” consisting solely of debt-collection efforts. Some company officers resort to coercion to extract payments, threatening people with jail time if they don’t pay, regardless of their financial circumstances.
The result? Poor people find themselves scrambling for money they don’t have and forgoing basic necessities simply to preserve their liberty.
Take Marietta Connor, of Georgia, for example. Connor is a pastor and a veteran who stretches her small monthly disability check to pay for all of her food, transportation, and medical bills, and other expenses. Because she could not pay a private probation company $140 in fees on top of a ticket for a traffic violation, she was placed on probation and charged $39 a month by the company. Failure to pay would have meant time behind bars.
Nearly two centuries ago, the U.S. formally abolished jailing people who failed to pay off their debts. So why are these for-profit companies threatening people with time behind bars just for being poor?
From what we have learned so far, these are some judges who utilize private probation services. There will be more to come. Please share the videos we’ve produced in collaboration with the ACLU (click the Videos tab above) and this list to urge these judges to cut their ties with the private probation industry!
To sign the petition click here.