Criminal Justice

Offenders pay fees for probation and even jury trials, an example of 'poverty capitalism'

In many jurisdictions,the criminal justice system is hiring private probation companies that charge offenders for their services and collection companies that tack on extra fees for collecting fines.

The costs are shifted to those least equipped to pay, an example of “poverty capitalism,” according to a New York Times op-ed by author and Columbia journalism professor Tom Edsall. Those unable to pay could end up in jail, he writes.

The result is a vicious circle, according to Edsall. “The poorer the defendants are,” he writes, “the longer it will take them to pay off the fines, fees and charges; the more debt they accumulate, the longer they will remain on probation or in jail; and the more likely they are to be unemployable and to become recidivists.”

Edsall refers to an NPR investigation that found in Washington state, defendants are even charged for jury trials. The cost of a 12-person jury is $250, double the charge for a six-person jury. In an least 41 states, the report said, inmates are charged for their incarceration, while in at least 44 states, defendants can be charged for probation and parole supervision.

The more that criminal services are shifted to the poor, the more resentful they become of law enforcement, Edsall says. He points to Ferguson, Missouri, where escalating court fines paid about 20 percent of the city’s budget, compared to just 12 percent of the budget two years earlier.

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