4.28.2009

America, Land of the...Indefinite Prison Sentence...

About this time last year, I wrote a long tirade against the privatization of public services (and many other things) in my post "Pillage Perfect". I went on and on about how the privatization of services such as police forces, lawyers, and court proceedings would render the poor defenseless when accused of crimes or in need of legal representation.

I was right, of course.

It has been brought to my attention that Debtor's Prisons are back in fashion. The states of Michigan, Mississippi, Georgia, and Florida have begun claiming that the imprisonment and forced labor of citizens who cannot or have not met their debt obligations is appropriate to aid their economy, and, what's worse is that they are claiming that they no longer have the funds to detain these newly attained prisoners, and so they must pay for their own room and board as well. Many states have also now privatized the parole services as well, making the paroled citizen pay for their own parole out of pocket.

Now, aside form the absurdity of forcing people to pay for their own imprisonment, let's look at the gross miscarriages of justice that are occurring for the sake of a greasy buck.

On sending the indebted to prison:
From the New York Times:

Edwina Nowlin, a poor Michigan resident, was ordered to reimburse a juvenile detention center $104 a month for holding her 16-year-old son. When she explained to the court that she could not afford to pay, Ms. Nowlin was sent to prison. The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, which helped get her out last week after she spent 28 days behind bars, says it is seeing more people being sent to jail because they cannot make various court-ordered payments. That is both barbaric and unconstitutional.

From Democracy Now!:
Hospitals hound uninsured patients for bill payments and now rank among America’s most aggressive debt-collectors using one of the harshest and least-known collections tactics of all: seeking the arrest of no-show debtors. We speak with Jim Bean who was jailed in Illinois in part because he failed to pay a hospital bill and we hear from the CFO of the hospital that sought his arrest as well as a member of a grass roots citizen action organization in Illinois. [includes transcript]

From Tampa Bay.com:
In a little-noticed trend blamed on the state's hard economic times, several courts in Florida have resurrected the de facto debtor's prison — having thousands of Floridians jailed for failing to pay assessed court fees and fines. The shortsighted plan threatens to run afoul of the U.S. Constitution. It appears to generate little additional revenue relative to the misery it causes, and it should be stopped.

From Boston.com:
CHILDREN DESERVE fair child support. But I was outraged when I read, in "Amid layoffs, child support pacts fraying," about the man who fell $23,000 behind in what he owed, including fees to his ex-wife's attorney, and was handcuffed and put in jail for 30 days. What kind of unrealistic judge would do this, when this poor father had a modification petition pending? How does jailing a father who tries to play by the rules benefit the children? The judge needs a reality check.

The courts are now sentencing people to jail time because they are too poor to pay their fines or debts. This would be one thing if the courts issued either a finite jail sentence, or issued a definitive payment schedule for the fines, however, that is not the case.

On prisoners paying for their confinement, and indefinite detainment:
From the New York Times:
That has not stopped the practice. In Georgia, poor people who cannot pay off fines — plus a monthly fee to the private company that collects the payments — are often sent to jail for nonpayment, according to Stephen Bright, president of the Southern Center for Human Rights. In 2006, the center sued on behalf of a woman who was locked up in Atlanta for eight months past her original sentence because she could not pay a $705 fine.

From Tampabay.com:
At $53 per day of incarceration, it is an expensive way to try to collect from people who generally are struggling to meet the expenses of daily living. The center calculated that those incarcerated cost the system $62,085 to bring in $80,450 in debts.

From Infowars:
Despite her inability to pay, she was held in contempt of court and ordered to serve a 30-day sentence. On March 6, three days after she was incarcerated, she was released for one day to work. She also picked up her paycheck, in the amount of $178.53. This, she thought, could be used to pay the $104, and she would be released from jail.

But when she got back to the jail, the sheriff told her to sign her check over to the county — to pay $120 for her own room and board, and $22 for a drug test and booking fee. [...] In 2006, the Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR) filed a suit on behalf of Ora Lee Hurley, who couldn’t get out of prison until she had enough money to pay a $705 fine. But she couldn’t pay the fine because she had to pay the Georgia Department of Corrections $600 a month for room and board, and spend $76 a month on public transportation, laundry and food. She was released five days a week to work at the K&K Soul Food restaurant, where she earned $6.50 an hour, which netted her about $700 a month after taxes. Hurley was trapped in prison for eight months beyond her initial 120-day sentence until the Southern Center intervened. Over the course of her incarceration, she earned about $7,000, but she never had enough at one time to pay off her $705 fine.

From the Southern Center for Human Rights:
This lawsuit was filed in November 2004 on behalf of two former inmates of the Clinch County Jail against Clinch County, Georgia, Sheriff Winston Peterson, and Deputy Sheriff Patricia Suggs. In Georgia, even courts have no authority to impose fees on criminal defendants unless those fees are specifically authorized by statute. There is no Georgia statute authorizing the imposition of per diem fees on pre-trial detainees. Yet, the Sheriff of Clinch County charged all inmates $18 per day, resulting in bills exceeding $3,000 in some cases. Before release, some inmates were required to sign a contract agreeing that they would pay the fee or go back to jail.

I'd like to reiterate that the people involved here are not serving time to reconcile their debts. The courts are not ruling that they can either pay their debts, or spend X amount of days in jail, and then all is settled. They are being put into jail until they can afford to pay their debts, and are not being allowed to accumulate enough money to pay their debts, and so are serving time indefinitely. In the meantime, not only are they amassing profits for the justice system by paying for their mandatory jail time, and drug tests, but as we all know inmates in prisons also work inside the prisons to generate revenue. They have become indentured servants.

Perhaps our current justice system has forgotten that crimes are to be punishable with reasonable sentences. They are not to be indefinite, cruel, or unusual sentences. It also needs mentioning that by holding the debtors in a prison, the court system is preventing them from paying the debt that they were originally jailed for, and thus is preventing companies and courts from collecting the money they claim is the very reason for the debtor's prison. That leads me to two conclusions, either the system is paying the debts to the companies or courts on the side, and continuing to generate revenue illegally, or, this has little to do with forcing debtors to pay their debts, and everything to do with simply punishing them as much as they can. There are no other logical reasons for this system.

Essentially punishing the poor for being poor.

On privatization of the Judicial system:
From the Southern Center for Human Rights:
Approximately 300 people are currently without lawyers to represent them after Mack Crawford, Director of the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council ("GPDSC"), in August of 2008, failed to renew contracts with three lawyers who were providing representation to defendants whose interests conflicted with those of defendants represented by the Northern Judicial Circuit public defender office.

From Infowars:
The task force trolled through predominantly African American neighborhoods, rounding up people who had outstanding court fines. After arresting and jailing them, the City of Gulfport processed these people through a court proceeding at which no defense attorney was present or even offered.

Many people were jailed for months after hearings lasting just seconds. While the city collected money, it also packed the jail with hundreds of people who couldn’t pay, including people who were sick, physically disabled and/or limited by mental disabilities. [...]In courts around Georgia, people who are charged with misdemeanors and cannot pay their fines that day in court are placed on probation under the supervision of private, for-profit companies until they pay off their fines. On probation, they must pay these companies substantial monthly “supervision fees” that may double or triple the amount that a person of means would pay for the same offense.

For example, a person of means may pay $200 for a traffic ticket on the day of court and be done with it, while a person too poor to pay that day is placed on probation and ends up paying $500 or more for the same offense.

To add further insult to injury, of the four states now in the hot seat for resurrecting Debtor's Prisons, three of the states party-over-people partisan politicians have rejected the stimulus money set aside for their states in part or in whole.

Let me restate that...the politicians in Mississippi, Georgia, and Florida (all Republicans) - some of the worst hit states in the US - has rejected stimulus monies allocated for lengthening unemployment benefits, health benefits, job creation, and other assorted revenues that could help keep people in the red, and out of debtor's prisons.

Is there no end to the Bourgeoisie's greed and hatred of the poorest citizens? Whether they were poor to begin with, or lost everything due to a global economic crisis, losing their jobs, their homes, and their belongings all a long the way? Or are the lower Red States really so bitter towards the poor that they welcome a perversion of justice and the jailing of otherwise innocent people simply because they are poor?
Privatization of public services leads to Fascism, plain and simple. It must be stopped.

Resources:
Wiki debtor's prison
ACLU Nowlin press release
Nowlin Motion
Northern Circuit Complaint (Mississippi)
Criminal defense law
Constitution, Miranda warning and rights
Recovery.gov
Florida rejects stimulus
GOP rejects stimulus money
South Carolina rejects stimulus
Rejecting Stimulus aid may save states
Governors reject stimulus for unemployment
Senators divided over stimulus rejection
Georgia rejects stimulus money
Republicans torn over stimulus funds
All articles linked to in text.

6 comments:

StillThinking said...

Why hasn't this gotten more media attention? Why haven't the major news networks and newspapers jumped all over this? Why hasn't the ACLU made a major media campaign out of this? This is indentured servitude, this is modern day slavery.

Fuck the Republicans. I hope the people in these states come to their senses and realize what bastards they actually are.

Now I am all worked up.

John the Custodian said...

It is approaching the fully corporatized state that England had under George III. Nothing unAmerican about that O_o. Thomas Paines "Rights of Man" denounces that system--hence the name of my 2nd blog. Good Stuff here :)

Monkey Wrench said...

Great, indentured servitude is back again!! Next we can start shipping foreigner's with dark skin into the country, and forcing them to do work with not pay and no rights!!

It would help the economy!! SO that's what we should do!

I mean, what's important, human rights or a big stack of cash??


(a)

Wrench

Sylvie said...

Whoa - though, we should have seen this coming. Way back in the day, when Clinton was in office, I did a job for the Federalist Society, a couple of their meetings. They really wanted debtors prisons, and workhouses for the children of former welfare recipients.

It was a shockingly medieval point of view. I wouldn't have believed it if I didn't hear it with my own ears. You will pay or you will pay.

More recently, I've had a job where a roomful of CIOs were talking about Eastern Europe being like Mexico for engineers. They wre very excited at the prospect of the really cheap, really educated workforce there.

The E. Europeans are/were desperate folks. and the CIOs were looking to reduce their labor costs even further, and in every front.

Slavery is the only outcome for this kind of mentality. Zero: it's the "wage that makes sense" for the masters of the universe.

The only question I have now is, do you think we will tolerate this stuff on a large scale?

LiteralDan said...

I'm all for strict, enforceable punishments, but this is madness.

I'm thinking the neo-conservatives are so conservative, they want to take us all back to the 1760s. You know, the good old god-fearing, King-loving, thumb-screwing days.

Dave Dubya said...

You have to think that there are many wealthy elites who would love the idea of a "final solution" for the poor and indebted.

Those KBR/Homeland Security labor camps are the perfect places for poverty stricken, bankrupted, unemployed citizens to enter in a "work will make you free" program.

Their historical precedent is the "Arbeit Macht Frei" camp system from 1930's and '40's in Europe.

All we need for this to happen is the next Republican president, knowing he will not be accountable for any crime.

This scenario is very possible due to the Reich Wing making every effort to assure Obama fails.