Poor people trapped with escalating fees and fines

Dealing with the criminal justice system in Georgia can have a serious effect on anyone's life regardless of their financial situation. However, the damage can be particularly pronounced for impoverished people who face escalating debts and punishments as a result of court fees and citations. Across the country, a growing number of states, counties and municipalities are turning to court costs, debt collection and hefty fines to finance their overall budgets. Rather than raising local taxes, these areas are paying for services through potentially excessive fines for a range of minor infractions.

However, these fines and fees weigh particularly heavily on people living in poverty. Because they are unable to pay the citation costs, they may face not only an ongoing debt but also additional penalties. People lose their driver's licenses as a result of unpaid fees and then could lose their jobs. Others wind up in jail despite the fact that they never faced criminal charges over these minor issues. The one thing that they do have in common is poverty and an inability to pay high fines. Despite a 1983 Supreme Court ruling banning imprisoning people because they are too poor to pay fines, versions of the practice continue across the country.

In one state, debt collection for municipal and county fines is outsourced to a private company. The firm adds another 30% to already costly charges. People who are unable to pay are threatened with arrest. If they are jailed for not paying the fines, they are then further hit with a bill for the cost of their incarceration.

The effects of a criminal record can follow people throughout their lives, denying them opportunities for housing, education and employment. People facing criminal charges may work with a criminal defense attorney to refute police allegations and aim to prevent a conviction.

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