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.
This bench card was created as part of a 2016 settlement agreement in Kennedy v. Biloxi, an ACLU lawsuit against the city of Biloxi, Mississippi, where defendants could avoid incarceration only if they paid their fines and fees immediately, in full, with cash.
This report is the first publication in a three-part series entitled “Confronting Criminal Justice Debt: A Comprehensive Project for Reform.” It provides an overview of the many types of fines and fees that the criminal justice system imposes and the collateral consequences that can result from them, with a particular emphasis on racial and economic disparities.
This Guide for Policy Reform by Harvard Law School’s Criminal Justice Policy Program is organized into four issue areas: conflicts of interest, poverty penalties and poverty traps (when people are forced to pay more or face harsher sanctions because of their poverty), the ability-to-pay determination, and transparency and accountability. Under each of these sections, a description of the problem is followed by legislative, judicial, and executive reform suggestions for people at the state level to use and incorporate into their efforts.
This guide aims to inform litigators about various strategies to defend and gain relief for individual clients burdened by criminal justice debt. It also serves to foster communication and understanding among stakeholders who work in this particular area of the justice system.
This video provides an overview of the history of debtors’ prisons in the U.S. and features compelling commentary from citizens describing how our current system of court fines and fees put them in difficult situations and made them resort to desperate measures for survival.