Most drivers pay [a] fine after making a promise to the judge they will pay a certain amount by a certain date, Taylor said. If that individual doesn’t pay, an arrest warrant is issued, and the person can be re-arrested. After a few hours in jail, the individual goes before the judge again, promising to pay the penalty fees.Ridiculously, "Waco Mayor Malcolm Duncan Jr. said the idea started as a way to help residents by allowing them to sit out a payment from behind bars and not just accumulate additional fines that they can’t get out from under." So the city is pretending they're doing broke drivers a favor by incarcerating them for nonpayment. I bet you they don't receive many "thank you" cards.
Taylor said that’s about to change.
Once a person has not made payments and is arrested again, he said, the individual will be required to pay in full the remaining amount right then, or sit behind bars for time credit.
Grits passed along this atrocity of a policy to our friends at the Texas Fair Defense Project and their staff attorney Emily Gerrick had this to say:
The title of the article is strange to me, since the Waco municipal court has been jailing low-income people at incredibly high rates for a long time now. In 2013 alone, Waco jailed people in more than 10,000 cases for debt stemming from traffic tickets and other class C misdemeanors.
Putting traffic offenders in jail just because they can't pay something does not improve public safety. Instead, it costs struggling people their jobs and traumatizes their children. Waco needs to stop wasting taxpayer dollars on jail beds for debtors and start thinking about what's best for its residents.
I think the most important thing for Waco to do is to start utilizing statutory waivers. Waco's self-reported data indicates that it waived debt in 0 cases in 2013, and that figure is consistent with an independent OCA study from 2011. Waco is also very hesitant to use statutory payment alternatives like community service. While more than 60% of 2013 cases included jail credit, only about half a percentage point of cases included community service credit.So Waco is already using jail disproportionately to punish Class C misdemeanors, never waives fines, and almost never utilizes community service. In other words, Taylor's new dicta just doubles down on a bad policy.
Further opined Gerrick, Waco could also use "positive tools to encourage on-time payment of fines instead of relying on heavy-handed and expensive strategies like ordering jail time for failure to pay," including "amnesty days and in this particular instance some leeway and adjustments of payment plans when somebody misses a payment instead of automatic issuance of a warrant."
That'd be wiser and more cost effective than jailing anyone who can't pay. But this policy change is more about Waco's pointlessly punitive local legal culture more than any legitimate public safety goal. "Cost effective" really isn't an issue at play.