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The Financial Burden Tied to Nonviolent Crimes is Destroying Poor Communities

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The Financial Burden Tied to Nonviolent Crimes is Destroying Poor Communities

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A terribly tragic incident involving a man from Texas is receiving little attention from the media.

According to Yahoo! News, Patrick Joseph Brown, a 46-year-old man accused of stealing a guitar, was booked on a misdemeanor theft charge on April 3. Forty-eight hours after failing to post bail, Brown was found beaten to a pulp in the cell he shared with several other men, including three men who had been charged with aggravated assault causing serious bodily harm. He was later pronounced dead at a local hospital.

PrisonWhile authorities in Harris County aren’t aware of what prompted the violent act, Brown was placed in a cell with violent suspects due to his failure to come up with $3,000. Brown’s teenage son is devastated.

To proponents of a comprehensive criminal justice reform, the financial burden tied to minor or drug-related crimes has become a reason of concern.

The drug war, for instance, has had a real impact on the poor across the United States. But the financial burden tied to other non-violent crimes has also been affecting low-income communities across the board.

Harriet Cleveland, a 49-year-old mother of three in Alabama, was arrested after not being able to pay a series of traffic tickets. She had accumulated a number of citations because she had been driving without a license for some time. She also had no insurance.

While Cleveland says she knew what she was doing “was wrong,” she had no choice. She had just found a job after some time, a part-time gig that paid her $7.25 per hour, and her son had to be taken to school. She felt that the tickets could wait. Unfortunately, the police didn’t agree.

After she was arrested, the judge sentenced her to two years of probation with Judicial Correction Services, a private probation company. Cleveland had to pay JCS $200 a month, the judge ordered. While Cleveland was able to make her payments throughout the first year, gathering whatever she could find to put the money together, she eventually fell behind on payments. After losing her part-time job, Cleveland had to turn in all of her income-tax rebate to JCS instead of fixing the holes in her bedroom walls. By summer of 2012, “the total court costs and fines had soared from hundreds of dollars incurred by the initial tickets to $4,713, including more than a thousand dollars in private-probation fees.”

In the past three decades, the size of America’s incarcerated population quadrupled. The overcriminalization of America has been, along with the drug war, partially to blame for this phenomena.

With federal agencies and state governments attaching jail time to otherwise non-criminal behavior, even private companies that rely on the criminal justice system like Judicial Correction Services saw an opportunity to fill in the gaps by offering the state the services public law enforcement agencies are supposed to offer but are unable to. Instead of looking at the laws for an answer to this problem—identifying what kind of laws should be scraped, and what kind of behavior should be spared jail time—many justice activists believe that the solution is to put an end to what they call “policing for profit.”

But whether non-violent arrestees are trapped in a cycle of debt and incarceration because of mounting court debt or because of other probation company fees, we must look deeper into this matter by identifying ways of only arresting those who have committed crimes worthy of jail time.

Jail is not the best place for a mother of three who’s struggling to make ends meet but nor is it a safe place for a non-violent arrestee taken into custody for allegedly stealing a guitar. If criminal justice reformers are serious about their goals, tackling the overcriminalization problem in the United States is the only solution.

THEY SAID IT…

in Drugs, Healthcare, Liberator Online, Victimless Crime by James W. Harris Comments are off


JAY LENO’S LAST STAB AT OBAMACARE:
 “And the worst thing about losing this job, I’m no longer covered by NBC. I have to sign up for Obamacare!” — Jay Leno on his last day as host of The Tonight Show, Feb. 6, 2014.

RAND PAUL TAKES ON NSA: “The Fourth Amendment states that warrants issued must be specific to a person, place or task and this provision of the Bill of Rights exists explicitly to guard against the notion of a general warrant,where government can plunder through anyone’s privacy at will. The NSA’s metadata collection program is a general warrant for the modern age, reflecting the same kind of tyranny our nation’s founders fought a revolution to make sure would never happen again. … It’s time to trash the NSA’s mass surveillance of Americans, for good.” — Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), “The NSA is still violating our rights,” The Guardian, Feb. 20, 2014.

THE UNCONSTITUTIONAL WAR ON MARIJUANA: “The truth is that the federal ban on marijuana — unlike the federal ban on alcohol, which began and ended with constitutional amendments — has no basis in the powers granted by the Constitution, at least insofar as it purports to reach purely intrastate activities.” — syndicated columnist Jacob Sullum, “Let 50 Cannabis Flowers Bloom,” Jan. 29, 2014.

YES, THE GOV’T CAN KILL AMERICAN SUSPECTS ON AMERICAN SOIL: “The truth emerged only in 2013 when Senator Rand Paul asked point-blank whether the president could authorize lethal force, such as a drone strike, against an American citizen in the United States. Attorney General Eric Holder fired back that while the question was ‘hypothetical,’ the real-world answer was yes. Holder said he could imagine ‘an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the president to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States.’ … They’ve thought about it. They’ve set up the legal manipulations necessary to justify it. The broad, open-ended criteria the president laid out for killing suspected terrorists exposes the post-Constitutional stance our government has already prepared for. All that’s left to do is pull the trigger.” — journalist Peter Van Buren, “How to Build a Post-Constitutional America One Killing at a Time,” February 17, 2014.

WHY TRUST THE GOV’T: “The United States has been lying to its people for more than 50 years, and such lies extend from falsifying the reasons for going to war with Vietnam and Iraq to selling arms to Iran in order to fund the reactionary Nicaraguan Contras. Why should anyone trust a government that has condoned torture, spied on at least 35 world leaders, supports indefinite detention, places bugs in thousands of computers all over the world, kills innocent people with drone attacks, promotes the Post Office to log mail for law enforcement agencies and arbitrarily authorizes targeted assassinations?” — Prof. Henry A. Giroux, “Totalitarian Paranoia in the Post-Orwellian Surveillance State,” Truthout, Feb. 10, 2014.

THE FOUNDERS BETRAYED: “The bottom line is that we’ve betrayed much of the moral vision of our Founding Fathers. In 1794, when Congress appropriated $15,000 for relief of French refugees who had fled from insurrection in San Domingo to Baltimore and Philadelphia, James Madison rose on the floor of the House of Representatives to object, saying, ‘I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.’ Tragically, today’s Americans — Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative — would hold such a position in contempt and run a politician like Madison out of town on a rail.” — syndicated columnist and economist Walter Williams, “Concealing Evil,” Feb. 19, 2014.