Contrary to what many people may believe, there are debtors’ prisons throughout the United States where people are imprisoned because they are too poor to pay fines and fees.
The United States Supreme Court inBearden 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.” However, this constitutionaledictis often ignored.
Courts impose substantial fines as punishment for petty crimes as well as more serious ones. Besides the fines, the courts are assessing more and more fees to help meet the costs of the ever-increasing size of the criminal justice system: fees for anklebraceletsfor monitoring; anger management classes; drug tests, crime victims’ funds, crime laboratories, court clerks, legal representation, various retirement funds, and private probation companies that do nothing more than collect a checkeverymonth.
People who cannot afford the total amount assessed may be allowed to pay in monthly installments, but in many jurisdictions those paymentsareaccompanied by fees to a private probation company that collects them. A typical fee is $40 per month. People who lose their jobs or encounter unexpected family hardships and are unable to maintain payments may be jailed without any inquiry into their ability to pay.
There are more fees for those in jails or prisons. There are high costs for telephone calls.Inmatesare charged fees for medical services. A new trend is “room and board” fees in prisons and jails.