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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.

Timbs v. Indiana

Petitioner used life insurance proceeds to purchase a Land Rover for $41,558.30. He used the vehicle to transport heroin worth a total of $385. He was arrested and his vehicle was seized. Petitioner argued that the forfeiture was excessive in violation of the Eight Amendment’s excessive fines clause.

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.

Cook v. Taylor

This class action alleges that Alabama’s driver’s license suspension practices violate equal protection and due process because people are being punished without any determination of their ability to pay.

Mendoza v. Garrett

This case challenges the state of Oregon’s policy of suspending the driver’s licenses of people who cannot afford to pay fines and fees for traffic violations.

Briggs v. Montgomery

This case challenges a marijuana diversion program operated by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office. People who can afford to pay finish the program in 3 months. Those who can’t pay must stay in the program for at least six months or until they pay the fees owed, even if they have satisfied every program requirement other than payment.

Personal Narrative: Nikita Lee Mahoney

Mrs. Mahoney 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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