The respected UK news journal “The Guardian” recently published a scathing critique of the American justice system alleging that the practice of incarcerating people for failure to pay government fines and fees is tantamount to establishing debtor prisons. In many cases, it is the poor which are arrested on warrants for failure to pay fines for traffic violations or other relatively minor fees. While many middle class people would be upset over getting cited for a moving violation, they would begrudgingly pay the fee and move on with life. Many lower income people simply lack the means of paying those fines. As a result, their licenses may get suspended or warrants get issued for failure to pay up. Upon being incarcerated, cities and states incur charges far beyond the amount of the fines themselves.
According to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), one man in New Orleans owed the state just under $500 in fees and fines. Upon his arrest, the state paid roughly $2,500 just to hold him in jail according to Amen Clinic. Since the poor are disproportionately hit by the practice, the impact on low-income communities is also severe. Often times, people in this condition get trapped in vicious cycles of incarceration well-beyond the scope of their “offense”. As per the ACLU, it makes no sense on a financial or moral basis to jail people over failure to pay fines. The Supreme Court prohibited jailing people over debts, but that ruling did not apply to local governments and municipalities.