However, at a time when approximately 10% of adult Texans have outstanding arrest warrants, mainly because the Legislature increased so-called "driver responsibility fees" so much that most people can't pay, do we really want to extend these tactics to every penny ante scofflaw who fails to pay Class C misdemeanor tickets or court-imposed fines?
That's what Dallas County is doing, we learn at the Dallas News' Crime Blog. The County just published a new website listing scofflaws and their debts aimed at humiliating people or scaring them into paying - even publishing photos of people who owe the most.
To say it again, Dallas County is intentionally using public humiliation tactics that affect more than 10% of adults in order to squeeze out more revenue! It's one thing to do that for a relatively small population of sex offenders, but this is a ridiculous application of the tactic.
What's more, they're not even pretending the information in the database is accurate, which is good since Dallas' justice information systems are notoriously flawed. A disclaimer informs us that:
The wanted person’s [sic] listed may not be accurate due to the instant ability to satisfy their delinquent accounts and the inability to update this list in a timely fashion. This list may not be current. The case amount is approximate, and can vary.So they're just dumping a bunch of flawed, unreliable data out there and hoping it increases short-term revenue.
This cannot be a good idea. We've discussed before how using the jail as a debtor's prison generates short-term revenue but much greater long-term ancillary costs for taxpayers: "Penny wise and pound foolish" is the applicable cliche'.
In addition, the Commissioners Court approved another measure mulcting inmate families to the tune of $730,000 per year from a $10 medical screening fee they're beginning to charge. Of course, it's not jailed crooks who must pay the fee. They're taking the money off the top from inmate commissary accounts, money which by definition comes from inmates families or somebody on the outside, often whoever is caring for their kids while they're incarcerated. So this fee generates revenue from truly the least among us - family members of jail inmates who did not commit the crime for which the person is incarcerated.
What's more, all this is over relatively small amounts of money in the county budget, easily soluble with a small tax increase or raiding their $48 million rainy day fund. The approach doesn't even make fiscal sense beyond the most short-term thinking: If Dallas' overcrowded jail earns them more jury verdicts over mistreatment, neglect, and failure to provide adequate medical care, the small amounts they get from scaring and humiliating scofflaws or soaking cash from inmate families will pale by comparison.
Especially with the current climate on Wall Street, it's hard for me to see these revenue-generating schemes through anything but an economic lens. From that perspective, these tactics are pure class warfare - a mean, low, and cynical set of policies by the Dallas Commissioners Court aimed at squeezing money from the poorest among us to subsidize low taxes for property owners.