Doing Time But Not Because Of The Crime
Stephen Papa is an Iraq War veteran who, after getting drunk with friends, was arrested for destruction of property and resisting arrest. His fine was modest, but since he was homeless and without a job, Papa was sent to jail for 22 days because of his inability to come up with the money.
Stories like this are widespread and growing. National Public Radio has a troubling new report revealing that an increasing number of people are serving jail time, not for the crimes they have committed, but because they cannot afford to pay the ever-growing fees associated with involvement in the criminal justice system.
A state-by-state survey conducted by NPR found that defendants are charged for many government services that were once free, including those that are constitutionally required. For example:
- In at least 43 states and the District of Columbia, defendants can be billed for a public defender.
- In at least 41 states, inmates can be charged room and board for jail and prison stays.
- In at least 44 states, offenders can get billed for their own probation and parole supervision.
- And in all states except Hawaii, and the District of Columbia, there’s a fee for the electronic monitoring devices defendants and offenders are ordered to wear.
These fees — which can add up to hundreds or even thousands of dollars — get charged at every step of the system, from the courtroom, to jail, to probation. Defendants and offenders pay for their own arrest warrants, their court-ordered drug and alcohol-abuse treatment and to have their DNA samples collected. They are billed when courts need to modernize their computers. In Washington state, for example, they even get charged a fee for a jury trial — with a 12-person jury costing $250, twice the fee for a six-person jury.