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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: Chris S.

Chris S.’s driver’s license was suspended five times for failure to pay fines. He never received prior notice that his license was being suspended. He never had an opportunity to explain why it should not be suspended.

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.

Personal Narrative: Anthony Bertrand

During the early morning of January 2, 2019, Bertrand was pulled over for his headlight and the officer informed him that his license was suspended. Bertrand had no idea that his license was suspended and later found out that it was because he had unpaid tickets from 5 to 6 years ago.

Florida SB 734: Penalties and fees; driver’s license suspensions

The bill provides that driver’s licenses may not be suspended for failure to pay fines and fees unless the person has the ability to pay but refuses to do so. It also provides that courts must provide alternatives to immediate payment of fines and fees for people who are indigent, such as payment plans and community service.

Rodriguez v. Mach

Plaintiffs argue that their Equal protection and Due process rights were violated because of the inadequate notices, lack of inquiry into their ability to pay, and the suspension of their licenses solely because of their inability to pay.
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