Monday, February 27, 2017

Pay or Stay: Debtors Prison Policies in Texas

The Texas Fair Defense Project and Texas Appleseed have a new report out on the use of jail time for fine only offenses. More on this later after Grits has had a chance to go through it in detail, but I wanted to put the link out there for those who interested. In the meantime, this assessment is hard to argue with:
Low-income Texans are being set up to fail by the way fines and fees are handled, and they are often driven deeper into poverty. Suspending a person’s driver’s license makes it illegal to drive to work; issuing an arrest warrant can make it nearly impossible for to find employment; and sending that person to jail can lead to the loss of a job and housing. The public’s safety is harmed when low-risk people languish in jail. This system hurts Texas families and drains our public resources at great expense to taxpayers.
MORE: See Texas Observer coverage.

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

Smith county is at the forefront of creating poverty with their tuff on crime attitude.

Phelps said...

Too many (I would wager all) cities and towns in Texas rely on revenue generated from tickets to fund their budgets. Until we remove this perverse incentive, we are never going to get actual peace-keeping from our police. You can't separate the political desire to fund the government on the backs of the most vulnerable citizens and the need to keep the peace.

The best solution I've seen to removing this perverse incentive (the same one we see in asset forfeiture) is to pass a law that pools all the fines collected in the state, and then pays them back apportioned by population. At least then, there's no monetary incentive to run up the score.

Anonymous said...

So, Grits, war do you fo with someone who has consistently failed to pay their fines, show up for ciurt, or comply with an alternative punishment? Or do we just let the poor skate, never learning what it means to be a reliable member of society? I sympathize with the plight of those who are poor, but they could give up their beer, their cigarettes, and their cell phone long enough to pay a fine off.

Anonymous said...

or you could make the fine based on the harn to society.

no seatbelt
...$1 fine

Phelps said...

I don't think you know what you mean about "give up their beer" etc. One ding for driving without insurance is going to be over $1000, once you figure in driver surcharge etc, and that's is they can pay it immediately. Most Americans (not just the poor, most) can't even come up with $200 in emergency spending, much less $1000.

Anonymous said...

I'm talking about defendants going on payment plans if they can't pay the fines immediately. What happens if they stop paying? Say they get some sort if community service, but skip their assigned tasks. How do you deal with those situations without the threat of jail? I know enough poor people to know that given a choice between their beer and cigarettes and paying their fine, the vices win every time.

Robert said...

As one who is in the midst of paying his fines I can tell you that the burden is heavy and it DOES lead to further weights holding us down in the pit of poverty. The fines often are too high and the challenges one has to face to pay them cause everyone in their lives to suffer. It isn't fair or reasonable. I support Grits on this, we need a fix that removes the city and county profit motivation.

Susanna said...

Sounds an awful lot like Robin Hood and we've seen how successful THAT'S been for our school districts.

Anonymous said...

Then, jail for contempt of court would work. Don't jail for the debt, just jail for failing to follow the courts orders for alternatives to the fine.

Perry Mason said...

I agree with Phelps.

I have seen tickets that are over $600! I don't understand how towns can charge so much on tickets! Some of these towns don't offer community service to work off tickets. They don't care if you are indigent or not!!!!

So you can't pay a ticket and the city places a hold on your driver's license. You get pulled over and get a new ticket for DWLI due to not paying a ticket, then a new surcharge of $250 for 3 years!

It is madness in the state of Texas!

Lee said...

80% on the people in this state are only 2 paychecks away from starvation and I would guess just as many have little or no savings. Coming up with several hundred or thousands of dollars on a short notice simply cannot be done by most Americans that live paycheck to paycheck.

If fines were lowered to something that they could realistically come up with then that would be another matter.

Grits, I always wondered how lawmakers or courts come up with the fine? Do the roll dice or spin a wheel? Are the fines based on the average income of the citizen or perhaps the median? If they use any one of these statistical methods (the median for instance) do they then spin the wheel or roll the dice to see what percentage of the given income that the fine will be? I would suppose after that there is a sliding scale based upon the severity of the offense....care to speculate?

Phelps said...

The legislature just picks a number.

Really.

Other countries (I want to say Denmark but that's from unreliable memory) have progressive fines based on a percentage of income, where you end up with equally ridiculous situations like where some billionaire was fined several million dollars for a speeding ticket.

Anonymous said...

Most debtors are created by our County's, especially our County Tax Appraisal District Corporations for corrupt purposes.

Anonymous said...

That was Finland.

Phelps said...

See? Don't trust your memory, or anyone else's. Especially eye witnesses.

jimbino said...

Good reason to leave Texas, which gra├žas a Darwin, I have already done.

Lee said...

Phelps -

The Billionaire is paying for a million dollar ticket out of his mass wealth (a very easy thing to do) but the average citizen (living paycheck to paycheck) is paying theirs out of what they have to live on (making a difficult choice between jail, electricity, rent or food). The billionaire will not have to make a difficult choice like that because his survival is not being threatened.

It is not as ridiculous as it sounds and would work well in this country where counties are trying to use traffic court to raise revenue. Follow the logic of if you want fish, go to those whom have the fish. If you want potatoes go to those whom have the potatoes. If you want money go to those whom have the money (as opposed to targeting the poor with fines that they could never pay). You wouldn't go to the Sahara desert looking for fish, so why would you go to the indigent looking for money?

Phelps said...

That million dollars wasn't sitting under a mattress. That was the state taking money that would have been rolled back into investment.

In any event, they will go after the indigent because that is where the money is. You make more taking $10 from 1000 people than $1000 from five rich people -- especially when half those rich people will beat the charge.

Anonymous said...

Pause please. First there is no payment of any kind due unless there is a guilty or no contest plea entered. If a warrant is issued, you either didn't show or you didn't do what was required. There has to be a consequence for that or the law is irreverlent. Second, if you did it or failed to do it, whatever it was, put your big boy or girl pants on and face the music. Most Texans do just that. Finally, if you are struggling the JUDGE, (not the city, county, or legislature) has the power to make the appropriate call on your situation including waiving all fines and fees. If there is a problem in Texas and I say if because if there is, there should be hundreds of lawsuits, it's an access and information problem. We all mess up and we all need help. But sometimes you just have to pay what you owe.

Anonymous said...

Hey if you break the law Phelps..you are a criminal. No different than an illegal alien..a criminal is a criminal is a criminal..right? Break the law and pay the piper. In the country illegally? Get deported. Get a traffic ticket? Pay the fine. What is the confusion here? If you don't like the laws and the penalties that go along with them then don't break the law.

Phelps said...

What is the confusion here?

That I'm arguing to use the legislative process to get a better law, not arguing to just ignore the law that we already have on the books and the majority of the electorate fully supports.

Anonymous said...

So Phelps, that seems to be a change in heart from what you typically post. Whenever a law seems to be targeting minorities specifically, you are all for the system grinding them under. I did'nt see you arguing for a legislative change when it came to deporting illegal aliens? Be consistent or keep your arguments to yourself dude.

Phelps said...

Who do you think these onerous fines target? Whenever you target the poor, you are necessarily targeting minorities.

I'm not arguing for a legislative change on deporting violent felons because I agree with the current law and think that violent felons should be deported.

My arguments are entirely consistent. Yours are entirely based on hysterical emotion.

Anonymous said...

The fines target EVERYONE. So now its just the VIOLENT felons that should be deported? You seem to have changed your tune regarding that. My... how fickle you become when someone points out your inconsistencies. All one has to do is go back and read your previous posts dude to see how inconsistent you are.

Phelps said...

All illegals should be deported (subject to current exceptions like asylum, etc.) Violent felons (like the ex-con in the last story) should be deported first and should be the focus of our efforts. There's nothing fickle about that. You sound like a child complaining that "clean your room" means that the rest of the house doesn't need to be clean as well.

People are welcome to go back and read my comments and see how consistent I am. No one can go back and read yours and know who they belong to, because you are an anonymous coward.

Anonymous said...

See...you already changed your story from your last post. People don't have to go back beyond your last two posts on here to see how inconsistent you are.

Phelps said...

Oh, I get it. You can't read English. Never mind.

Anonymous said...

The fact that some can pay these fines and some cannot is completely irrelevant. The problem here is this state has once again chosen to ignore the US Constitution by leveling these ridiculous fines AFTER you already paid the damn fine for which got you in trouble. This drivers surcharge is nothing less than a classical total disregard from our rights to be protected from double jeopardy. Some lawmakers call you traffic scofflaws. I'd rather be called that than a constitutional scofflaw which is what they are....