The United States Supreme Court in Bearden v. Georgia, 461 U.S. 660 (1983), held that courts cannot imprison a person for failure to pay a criminal fine unless the failure to pay was “willful.” In 1971 there were fewer than 200,000 inmates in our state and federal prisons. By 2012, that number had risen to over 1,500,000 or about the population of Houston Texas. Even more astonishing is the growth of the total number in jail or prison and on probation and probation which was well under 2,000,000 in 1980 is now 6,900,000 down from over 7,000,000 since 2006. All of these probationers and parolees are paying fees and fines regardless of earning capacity. In Georgia, many are reporting to for-profit private probation companies that State probation services have been outsourced. Many in Jail are because they can’t pay their finds and fees, while others are trapped in poverty due to the onerous burden of paying fines and fees. This where the NPR expose “guilty and charged” picks up pointing out that there is a lot more cha-ching than click-clink going on in the American Justice system. Mostly on the backs of the poor and disenfranchised.
-Author: George Creal