On a rainy night, James took shelter under a bridge and was arrested for criminal trespass. Mr. Thomas was found guilty and assessed court costs. He advised the clerk of his circumstances and never heard anything else about the outstanding debt until 2016, when he was denied a Tennessee’s driver’s license.
ArchCity Defenders organized a court watching program at the Davidson County General Sessions Criminal Court in Nashville on Monday, September 12, 2016. The goal of the program was to learn more about the administration of right to counsel in misdemeanor courts in Nashville, and to learn if defendants were being incarcerated for inability to pay fines and fees.
She was a single black woman, age 37, with three children, ages 14, 10, and 8. Her disabled grandmother also lived with her. She worked two jobs to take care of her family and brought home just under $1200 monthly. After paying rent of $715, she had very little left to meet everyone’s needs. She reported having been to Court 1A five times in the past two years, facing charges of driving on a suspended license.
Providence Community Corrections (PCC), a private for profit organization, was the manager of the misdemeanor probation system for Rutherford County, Tennessee. Those who could afford to pay the fees were placed on unsupervised probation, those who could not were supervised by PCC. PCC was funded solely by the people it supervised. Probationers were threatened with arrest and revocation of probation which would result in additional fees and court costs.