Spotlighting disparities in jail stays over unpaid court fines in Pennsylvania
A helpful reader made sure I saw this impressive piece of reporting from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazetteunder the headline “Modern-day debtors’ prisons? The system that sends Pennsylvanians to jail over unpaid court costs and fines.” I have probably not given as much attention here as I should to reporting and complaints about persons being incarcerated for failure to pay certain fines and fees, and this story caught my attention in its discussion of disparities in how judges justify sending folks to jail for failures to pay. Here is an excerpt for that discussion:
U.S. Supreme Court and state court precedents forbid the government from locking up defendants too poor to pay. District judges are supposed to jail only defendants who can afford to pay but “willfully” do not. “The Constitution is very clear, the law is very clear, you cannot be jailed for failing to pay when you can’t pay,” said David Harris, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.
But data show that is not always what happens.
A report released today from the Pew Charitable Trusts sheds new light on
what has long been true but is often overlooked: local jails play a vital role in our nation’s health care safety net, working often as the default response to people with mental health and substance use disorders. Individuals passing through jails have high rates of chronic and infectious diseases as well as disproportionately high rates of mental health and substance use disorders compared to the general
population. Even so, jails are often ill-equipped to respond to the health
care needs of people in their custody.
WHITE PLAINS – Westchester’s district attorney has announced that there will be no more bail for non-violent misdemeanors. Officials say that the policy could prevent tens of thousands of people from spending time behind bars before they go to trial.
Why Does Our Justice System Fight So Hard to Keep Innocent People Behind Bars?
Mark Godsey was a “prosecutor’s prosecutor” who didn’t think there were any innocent people in prison. Then he began supervising his law school’s Innocence Project, and realized his assumptions were all wrong. By Joshua Holland
Dutchess County District Attorney William Grady considers recent policy shifts moving away from requesting monetary bail in misdemeanor and violations cases to be “somewhat misguided.”