Monday, July 06, 2015

Ramping up debtors' prison in Waco

In McLennan County, Municipal Judge Christopher Taylor changed the policy regarding incarceration for unpaid traffic tickets, insisting that anyone who can't pay in full must "sit behind bars for time credit." The Waco Tribune Herald  reported on the issue July 5 in an article titled "Run a red light in Waco? Now you could land in jail":
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.

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.
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.

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.


Anonymous said...

It's hard to get excited about Texas being so "Smart on Crime" when you read about nonsense like this. Couple this with the untimely death of Ban the Box and other no-brainer reforms and it's easy to get all depressed again.

Prison Doc

john said...

Perfect example of government arrogance exceeding their competence! What about the required hearing before a Magistrate? What about Class C Misdemeanors like traffic crap being NON-Jailable offenses? What about Municipalities (and other good ol' PAL-ities) cannot Make Law nor append the laws of the flaming flying monkey legislature? What about We The Poor People who are not paid members of the illicit BAR Assoc having rights and representation?
Just because the grinning bastards in charge want to jail and rob their local citizens (and God knows how many illegal visitors), is supposed to NOT be the same as carrying it out. Thy are not supposed to be able to do whatever the Hell they want---even though they may have seen the State or fed gov do similar.
THE CONCEPT OF PUBLIC SERVANTS (public serve-us) and honoring oaths IS GONE, as capitalism fell to cronyism. Damn their eyes; damn ALL their eyes.
If that Network movie was made today, would the tag line be, "Mad as Hell, and locked away for it!"

Anonymous said...

Maybe they're just trying to scare up some revenue to pay for lawyers to defend their actions at Twin Peaks...

Anonymous said...

Note to Travelers, Truckers and those headed to and / or back to Mexico

Avoid Waco at all cost (use your GPS or a Map) and whatever you do, don't buy anything on the net if it comes from a Waco zip code. Once there's no outsiders to high-jack, extort and rob, they'll turn on their own kind and eventually burn themselves out of town. Friggin hicks.

F7ck 'em & feed those biblethumpin hayseeds fishheads.

*I haven't spent one red dime in that weird place since the day they chose to participate in killing women & children. (Last year, I sent an Item given to me as a gift bought on Ebay for a couple of hundred bucks back due to it coming from that wackedout place.) Have you allowed yourselves to forget about the "Texas Barbeque" the entire town chose to attend and cheer on with high-fives vs. choosing to take vacation and sick days when the order came down to - kill 'em all & let their god sort 'em out. And, nope, don't own a bike of any kind and don't want one.

DLW said...

Maybe someone in Waco should read Tate v Short:

United States Supreme Court
TATE v. SHORT, (1971)
No. 324
Argued: January 14, 1971 Decided: March 2, 1971

Petitioner, an indigent, was convicted of traffic offenses and fined a total of $425. Though Texas law provides only for fines for such offenses, it requires that persons unable to pay must be incarcerated for sufficient time to satisfy their fines, at the rate of $5 per day, which in petitioner's case meant an 85-day term. The state courts denied his petition for habeas corpus. Held: It is a denial of equal protection to limit punishment to payment of a fine for those who are able to pay it but to convert the fine to imprisonment for those who are unable to pay it. Williams v. Illinois, 399 U.S. 235 . Pp. 397-401.

Anonymous said...





Art. 45.048. DISCHARGED FROM JAIL. (a) A defendant placed in jail on account of failure to pay the fine and costs shall be discharged on habeas corpus by showing that the defendant:
(1) is too poor to pay the fine and costs;

Unknown said...

While this is certainly something to think about, I can't get past the fact that they violated a law to get the ticket in the first place. So they broke the rules with the full knowledge they couldn't afford too and got a ticket. Now they can't pay. They have the opportunity to make arrangements for the ticket, including serving their time on their non-working days.

While this seems like a valid concern, in the end I don't see it.

DLW said...

M. Kat Mason, I don't know whether the people violated a traffic law or not. People that are too poor to pay the fine are also too poor to hire a Lawyer to help them with a ticket that may not have been justified. Of course, folks are free to believe that Law Enforcement only issues tickets to guilty people if they want to.

Anonymous said...

@Kat, they can't pay, Waco rarely allows community service, and the city won't waive for indigence. Have you ever heard the saying, "you can't get blood from a stone"?

Anonymous said...

I really think expanded community service is the way to go. It's just wrong for someone to serve time behind bars for a fine-only misdemeanor--even if they ask to. But walking away scot-free doesn't change behavior in the way that gives us a safer community. As a citizen, I don't want my court dedicated to revenue production, but I do want it to yield greater safety.

Anonymous said...


Unknown said...

M. Kat Mason

1000% I could catch you breaking a municipal law every day this month, and probably more than 1. There's your ticket.

Now throw in a layoff, or you having a heart attack, or your mom sinking into dementia and you're the person who can help her.

I love Texas - born and bred - but there is a simple mindedness and Machiavellian nature to the majority of the state population which makes me furious.

Anonymous said...

Don't ya'll just love Texas just-us, Class C misdemeanors are a "NON-JAIL" offense, and FTA failure to appear that stems from that is, well unlawful but hey it is always about the money, truth justice be damned give us the money !

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Unknown said...

In El Paso, people with outstanding traffic warrants have attempted to turn themselves in. In order to pay Traffic Fines. The only way they can. Again we are talking of lower income people. They are turned away and in some case'es when stopped for a violation again merely have the ticket added to their already unpayable account.