Can’t Win For Losing – How Institutions and Policies Keep Arkansans in Debt

This report presents the findings from an Arkansas Community Institute survey concerning the household debt  of Pulaski and Jefferson county residents. Many of the respondents owe debt from medical bills, student loans, and court fines and fees. Personal accounts and data are incorporated throughout the text to help illustrate the harms inflicted by these three kinds of debt, predominantly in communities of color.  The authors  also supply policy recommendations to alleviate the burden of medical, student, and court debt. 

I’m just trying to make it day to day. I expect them to come by the house and take me to jail sooner or later. 

You can read the full text of the report here

Key findings
  • “People of color in Pulaski County have double the amount of debt in collections (59%) as white people (30%). In Jefferson County, 54% of people of color have debt in collections compared to 40% of white people.”
  • 1210 of the 1845 Pulaski and Jefferson county residents surveyed reported at least one form of debt and the total owed by that subset was at least $19 million. 
  • “In one case, a woman bounced a check for $28.93, which then ballooned to thousands of dollars in court costs and led to her incarceration on a regular basis over the course of several years.”
  • Arkansas is the only state that has a criminal eviction statute: “A tenant can be brought to court, fined and sometimes jailed for non-payment of rent while the landlord has no obligation to maintain the rental unit at basic health and safety standards.”
  • Stop suspending driver’s licenses for failure to appear in court and failure to pay a fine. 
  • Establish a clear statewide method for determining a person’s ability to pay a fine or fee such as bench cards for each district judge.
  • Court administrators should monitor district courts to ensure that judges are adequately assessing ability to pay.
Neil Sealy, Acadia Roher, and Wonder Lowe
Arkansas Community Institute