The return of Debtors Prisons to the USA.

Nearly 200 years ago the US Supreme Court Outlawed debtors prisons in the United States.

And yet since 1970 the very same US Supreme Court has ruled in three separate cases that ‘Judges cannot send people to jail based on the fact that
they are to poor to pay their court and legal fee’s.

The Last case 31 years ago in 1983, Bearden vs. Georgia, involved the revocation of an indigent’s probation for his failure to pay a fine and

“Danny Bearden, a young man charged with breaking into a trailer. Bearden was fined several hundred dollars, but then he lost his factory
job. He knocked on neighbors’ doors asking to mow lawns. When he couldn’t pay the rest of his fines, he was sent to jail. In Bearden, the Supreme
Court ruled that judges can’t send someone to jail simply because they’re too poor to pay their court debt, only if the person had the ability to pay
but had willfully refused.”

For the last couple of days I’ve been
following a special series of stories from NPR titled “Guilty and Charged!”

“NPR looked at courts around the country and found in the three decades since Bearden, there’s been an explosion in the use of fines and
fees. Services long considered free now carry a charge, sometimes hundreds of dollars. NPR reviewed the laws in 50 states. Forty-three states now
allow people to be charged for their public defender. When someone goes to jail, they can be charged room and board in 41 states.

When they’re assigned a probation or parole officer, in 44 states they can be charged for that too. We also found wide variation in how judges
determine who’s too poor to pay, and so every day, all around the country, poor people go to jail because they can’t come up with the

Yet in the thirty one years since Danny Bearden trial the problem has only gotten worse.

In the NPR story they talk about one Stephen Papa. who served in Iraq with the Army National Guard. He returns to his home town in Michigan in 2012
but unable to find a steady work, he becomes homeless, Relying on friends to let him crash on their couches.

Anyway last August he and some friends got drunk. They found their way into an abandoned building where they were instantly arrested.
Stephen would spend 22 days in jail not for what he did, but because he couldn’t pay the $50 court fee! You see The judge wanted a first payment on
the $2,600 that Papa was charged in restitution, fines and court fees. But he only had $25 dollars in his pocket.

He explained to the judge that he was starting a new job and if the court could only wait a couple of weeks until he received his first check he could
make good on those payments. Naturally the judge said no he wanted the money right now! Papa went on to explain that if he went to jail he might not
get this new job at all! To which this judge say’s Papa is still going to jail and if he cannot find and keep a steady job then Papa will go right
back to jail!

If you go the NPR website you can listen to a recording of what was said between Papa and that judge.
NPR website

Then there is the case of Kyle Dewitt, also from Michigan, went to jail after he failed to pay his fines from catching a fish out of season. After
paying $175 to a bail bondsman he then learns that he still owed $200 in fines. You guessed it, he didn’t have it and spent three days in jail for not
having cash on hand right then and there!

Also I’ve included their State by State comparison of fees and fines

just in case you or I ever get busted for something then we’ll have a heads up for what they might make us pay for.

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