Fact: Many services that were once free, including constitutionally protected ones, are increasingly subject to fee schedules. Failure to pay can result in imprisonment.
Fact: In at least 43 states and the District of Columbia, defendants can be billed for their public defender’s services.
Fact: In at least 41 states, inmates can be charged for room and board during jail and prison stays.
Fact: In at least 44 states, offenders can be billed for their own probation and supervision.
Fact: In all states except Hawaii and the District of Columbia, there is a fee for electronic monitoring devices that defendants and offenders are ordered to wear.
Source: Guilty As Charged, NPR
Fact: In 2005, the town of Harpersville, Alabama’s court revenues were its largest source of income – three times that of the town’s sales tax, it’s second largest source of income, and larger than all other sources of income combined.
Fact: Harpersville, Alabama, and thousands of other towns across the U.S. operate what are, in effect, “debtor’s prisons” according to one Alabama Circuit Court judge.
Fact: Private probation companies operate in at least a dozen states. In George alone, private probation companies supervise 260,000-300,000 people per year.
Source: The Nation, The Town That Turned Poverty Into a Prison Sentence
The Constitution ostensibly protects people from falling into this kind of debt-and-punishment trap. In the 1983 case Bearden v. Georgia, the Supreme Court ruled that putting a probationer in jail for failure to pay a fine without first inquiring into that person’s ability to pay violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.