The Justice Department on Monday called on state judges across the country to root out unconstitutional policies that have locked poor people in a cycle of fines, debt and jail.
News Story (NATIONAL)
New York Times (NYT)
March 14, 2016
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Tags: Court Debt, Debtors Prison
Organizations mentioned/involved: Department of Justice (DOJ)
In a letter to chief judges and court administrators, Vanita Gupta, the Justice Department’s top civil rights prosecutor, and Lisa Foster, who leads a program on court access, warned against operating courthouses as for-profit ventures. It chastised judges and court staff members for using arrest warrants as a way to collect fees. Such policies, the letter said, made it more likely that poor people would be arrested, jailed and fined anew — all for being unable to pay in the first place.
It is unusual for the Justice Department to write such a letter. It last did so in 2010, when the department told judges that they were obligated to provide translators for people who could not speak English. The letters do not have the force of law, but they declare the federal government’s position and put local officials on notice about its priorities.