Government Fines Are Unjust

Payday Loans and Government FinesBeing poor in the United States generally involves having a portion of your limited funds slowly siphoned away through a multitude of surcharges and processing fees. It’s expensive to be without money; it means you’ve got to pay for every medical visit, pay to cash your checks, and frankly, pay to pay your overwhelming debts. It means that a good chunk of your wages will end up in the hands of the payday lender and the landlord. …

One of the most insidious fine regimes comes from the government itself in the form of fines in criminal court, where monetary penalties are frequently used as punishment for common misdemeanors and ordinance violations. Courts have been criticized for increasingly imposing fines indiscriminately, in ways that turn judges into debt collectors and jails into debtors’ prisons. The Department of Justice found that fines and fees in certain courts were exacted in such a way as to force “individuals to confront escalating debt; face repeated, unnecessary incarceration for nonpayment despite posing no danger to the community; lose their jobs; and become trapped in cycles of poverty that can be nearly impossible to escape.” A new report from PolicyLink confirms that “Wide swaths of low-income communities’ resources are being stripped away due to their inability to overcome the daunting financial burdens placed on them by state and local governments.” There are countless stories of people being threatened with jail time for failing to pay fines for “offenses” like un-mowed lawns or cracked driveways.

Critics have targeted these fines because of the consequences they are having on poor communities. But it’s also important to note something further. The imposition of flat-rate fines and fees does not just have deleterious social consequences, but also fundamentally undermines the legitimacy of the criminal legal system. It cannot be justified — even in theory.

–Oren Nimni
Fines and Fees Are Inherently Unjust

3 thoughts on “Government Fines Are Unjust

  1. Re flat rate vs progressive fees and fines: I don’t know if it’s still true, but last I looked traffic fines in Finland were progressive, scaled to the offender’s income. No reason this can’t be done and it certainly makes more sense if deterrence is the objective. Of course implementing such a thing would face heavy resistance in the US, like all other policies that disturb the interests of the better off.

    I have a nephew who’s currently sitting in jail awaiting a judgement on some non-violent charges. If he wishes to make a phone call, whether local or long distance, a fee is charged which must be paid for via a pre-paid account set up by whomever he is trying to contact. I believe that food and bed-rent are also charged to prisoners. “Visitors” must go to the jail but are not allowed to see him in person, only via local closed-circuit video conference. Some appearances before a judge are also conducted via video rather than in person. These practices aren’t uniform over all prison facilities, but this is the sort of Dickensian/1984 regime that is now considered acceptable in the US.

    • That’s insane. You used to be able to call people collect from jail. I suppose some phone company is making a nice profit off this “service.”

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