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Too Poor to Pay: How Arkansas’s Offender-Funded Justice System Drives Poverty & Mass Incarceration

This report identifies several promising issue areas for fines and fees reform in Arkansas, including nonpayment incarceration, driver’s license suspension for unpaid fines and fees, and probation fees. The authors interviewed 205 people who were charged and/or incarcerated over inability to pay fines and fees; performed court-watching in 8 counties; sent almost 300 records requests; and interviewed Arkansas criminal justice and social service stakeholders.

Personal Narrative: Kimberly S.

: Kimberly S. is a mother of three who battled to overcome drug addiction. She has been convicted of failure to pay 10 times in the last four years, each time incurring $450 to $670 in additional debt, and sentences of as much as 30 days in jail.

(Color)blind Reform: How ability-to-pay determinations are inadequate to transform a racialized system of penal debt

This law review article argues that fines and fees reformers’ emphasis on instituting ability-to-pay determinations without any reductions in racially discriminatory ticketing may cause more harm than good. In particular, the author articulates a concern that ability-to-pay determinations risk legitimizing the existing system of monetary sanctions and entrenching damages inflicted upon people deemed ‘able to pay.’

Personal Narrative: Tina Marie

Tina Marie was convicted of failure to pay nine times and sentenced to 30 days in jail seven times. She entered a treatment program in 2017 and is now drug-free. In 2018, Tina Marie completed three months of temporary work, bringing home her first paycheck since her son died. She still owes $15000 in court debt. No inquiry was ever made as to her ability to pay.

Personal Narrative: Nikita

Nikita was held for 42 days on a cash bail of $1315 because she was unable to pay a failure to appear charge. The charge was later dropped. However, to avoid imprisonment on a contempt charge, she pled guilty and this resulted in $20,000 additional debt.
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