Alabama is a tough place to be poor and get a traffic ticket or incur a fine for what might be a relatively minor offense. You could be asked to give blood or be figuratively bled (until recently) by private companies. See this report of a judicial ethics complaint filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). Defendants who showed up before an Alabama circuit court judge in response to an order to appear for a hearing on fees and costs they owed were told this by the judge:
“If you do not have any money and you don’t want to go to jail, consider giving blood today and bring me your receipt back, or the sheriff has enough handcuffs for those who do not have money,”
SPLC went on to note:
Wiggins said to consider the option of giving blood “a discount rather than putting you in jail.” However, no one who donated blood received any “discount” on their court debt; they simply received a reprieve from being thrown in jail.
In other news about Alabama from SPLC, Judicial Correction Services (JCS), informed remaining municipalities that they were leaving the state effective November 13. The company had been sued by SPLC for racketeering in its threats to put people in jail for failure to pay fines or debts owed to localities in Alabama. As the SPLC reported,
“JCS offers municipal courts its services at no cost to them. People who can’t pay traffic tickets and other minor fines in a lump sum are placed on what is known as “pay-only probation,” and judges assign JCS to collect payments. The company profits from fees it charges – typically $40 a month – to people making payments, prolonging their ordeal and making it more difficult to pay off their debt. Company officials often threaten people with jail to secure payment, and many defendants end up behind bars.”
Although illegal federally since 1833, states and localities have been expanding the incarceration of people for failure to pay debts–and not just ones owed directly to courts or state and local governments. This is something that the SPLC, the ACLU and other groups are very concerned with.
OK, there’s no such legal offense, but you wouldn’t know it from what happens in Jefferson Parish schools according to a request by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) that the U.S. Justice Department investigate the system. SPLC’s original complaint in 2012 resulted in a U.S. Department of Education investigation–
“into the disproportionate number of African-American students arrested for minor rule violations in Louisiana’s Jefferson Parish Public School System, the problem has worsened, the SPLC told federal authorities this week.”
Recently, a 10-year old girl with autism wound up handcuffed on the ground with the knee of a police officer in her back. An eighth grader was hauled away in cuffs and spent 8 days in juvenile detention for throwing Skittles in class.
Something seems very wrong with this public school system when, instead of customary in-school discipline by teachers and administrators the police are used to aggressively over-enforce rule violations by students. The SPLC report says this about the system:
Jefferson Parish stands out in Louisiana as the school district with, far and away, the most school-based arrests and law enforcement referrals. The overwhelming majority of these arrests are for nonviolent, minor student misbehavior. African-American students are disproportionately targeted.
The supplemental complaint describes how 80 percent of the district’s school-based arrests during the 2013-14 school year were African-American students – even though they are only 41.5 percent of the student population. When the SPLC filed its initial complaint in 2012, African-American students comprised 76 percent of school-based arrests despite being 46 percent of the student population.
PBS NewsHour will air a segment tonight featuring our fight against modern-day debtors’ prisons. Please tune in to see SPLC Deputy Legal Director David Dinielli discuss the all too common yet unconstitutional practice of putting poor people behind bars for their inability to pay fines for minor offenses.The U.S. Supreme Court found this practice to be unconstitutionalmanyyears ago, yet it persists.
Watch SPLC on PBS NewsHour Saturday, April 12 Check local airtimes, or watch online.