Emma Jacobs brings to our attention a very serious abuse of pre-trial detention that is not only unjust, but also a ridiculous waste of the criminal justice system’s resources.
According to court records, Lawrence sent people to jail 228 times from 2011 through the middle of December 2013 for “failure to pay collateral.” That’s money paid in advance of a plea, used here sort of like bail to make sure defendants attend the hearing to contest the ticket or the fine they’re asked to pay. These could be traffic tickets, having an open container in public or failing to keep your dog on a leash.
Wodarski and a half-dozen other defendants contacted said they were sent to jail for costs they didn’t have the money to pay.
This is illegal, according to Vic Walczak, legal director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania.
“What is perfectly clear under both the U.S. Constitution and the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure is that you cannot send someone to jail if they cannot afford to pay the fine,” Waldzak said, “because that’s the equivalent of having a debtor’s prison — of putting someone in jail simply because they’re poor.”
To piggyback on this, a big problem on the other end of PA’s prison pipeline is how we charge ex-offenders the cost of their incarceration, so they emerge from prison deeply in debt. And if they can’t pay, we throw them back in jail! If we want to reduce repeat offenses, this is probably the stupidest policy we could have.