Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Ferguson, MI Jails People for Failing Paying Minor Tickets


Summary: Ferguson, MI first became the focus of the public's attention after the killing of Mike Brown, an unarmed teen, by a Ferguson police officer. This sparked an investigation by the Justice Department that found that people in the city are routinely arrested and jailed for failing to pay traffic and court fines. People who are jailed for being too poor to pay minor debts most often lose their jobs and homes, only worsening the circumstances they are faced with. Using arrest warrants to enforce fine payment allows police to target black residents, which make up a large majority of the poor in Ferguson. Debtors prisons were outlawed under federal law in 1833. In 1983 the Supreme Court ruled jailing someone for being too poor to pay fines unconstitutional and that a judge must consider if a debtor has the ability to willfully pay or not. What it means to be able to willfully pay, however, can vary depending on the judge. This allows places like Ferguson and surrounding areas to become modern day debtors prisons.

Connection: In the 19th century it was common for people to be thrown in jail for not paying debts. Debtors prisons were outlawed under federal law in 1833. A nonspecific Supreme Court ruling, however, still allows people to face the same consequences for being too poor.

Questions: Is it fair for people to serve time for not being able to pay fines?
Do you think loopholes like this allow police to be racially biased and claim it justified?

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