It's a crime to be poor...

Despite the fact that debtors prisons have been outlawed for more than a century, it's still effectively a crime to be poor in our country. According to a stunning new report called “The Poor Get Prison,” the Justice System is being used as a weapon against the poor in municipalities all over our nation.

That study was co-authored by Karen Dolan and Jodi L. Carr on behalf of the Institute for Policy Studies, and it breaks down the various ways that Americans are being punished for being poor.

In addition to the obvious criminalization of poverty, like fining the homeless for being homeless, cities and counties throughout our country have set up a vicious cycle of charging exorbitant fees for small infractions and then jailing people who can't afford those fines.

By turning many petty crimes, like drinking from an open alcohol container, into civil infractions, cities and towns set the poor up to fail and end up behind bars. A $100 dollar ticket can easily turn into probation for failure to pay fines, which snowballs when probationers then fail to pay so-called “supervision fees,” and suddenly someone ends up in a modern-day debtors prison.

Not only is this whole process unconstitutional, it doesn't make a lick of sense. Throwing someone in jail over unpaid fines means that they can't work, and they can't make any money. It also means that instead of a $100 fine being lost to the city or county, taxpayers are now on the hook for the cost of putting someone behind bars.

In the introduction to “The Poor Get Prison” report, one of the authors wrote, “In the last ten years, it has become apparent that being poor is in itself a crime in many cities and counties, and that it is a crime punished by further impoverishment.”

Debtors prisons were outlawed long ago because they are inhumane and ineffective, and it's time to end the criminalization of poverty once and for all.

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