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Fines Making the Poor Poorer

April 20, 2015
Plain English Version

crimes and finesThe case in Ferguson highlighted another problem. The way the city uses the police to raise money for city services. Ferguson is not alone. The money raised from traffic fines, and other small crimes (infractions) is part of the budget of most cities. Each year there is pressure to get more money.

Let us say you get a traffic ticket. Or you get fined for smoking pot, riding a bike on the sidewalk or littering. You are often told to pay the fine and then charged for court costs. If you do not pay, your license gets suspended. Then you pay to get it back and are charged more fees for processing the papers. Interest and other penalties may be added to your bill.

You are now on a downward slope. With your license suspended, you cannot drive to work. You lose your job. Debts pile up.

Curbing “quality of life” crimes is important. It is part of keeping life in cities civil and comfortable for all. Many of these types of crimes take place in those parts of the city where poor people live.

Tennessee is a state that keeps pushing its lower-income residents to pay money to get back licenses. On the other hand, Washington State is trying to keep suspensions down. New York City is trying to make it easier to keep court dates. If people show up in court, it lowers the number of people with warrants against them.

Two things are clear. The laws need to be followed. However, if the result of enforcing the law makes people poorer and not able to go to work, the way the laws are carried out have to be changed.

Source: The New York Times April 14, 2015



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