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.