A federal judge in Louisiana delivered a major victory to advocates of the poor who have argued that criminal justice systems across the nation exploit folks who can least afford to pay excessive court fees and fines.
U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance ordered courts in Orleans Parish on Friday to allow a “neutral forum” to determine whether defendants can afford to pay court fees before sending them to jail for nonpayment, the Advocate reported, bringing an end to a three-year legal battle over the parish’s “debtors’ prison” system.
This comes as Attorney General Jeff Sessions reverses progress made under President Barack Obama‘s administration toward ending criminal justice systems that trap poor people in cycles of fines, debt and jail.
“This is a victory for the people of New Orleans and for those committed to fixing the breaks in the criminal justice system. America treats being poor as a crime, disproportionately victimizing people of color. This ruling ensures that people can no longer be thrown in jail in Orleans Parish for their poverty alone,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
At least 80 percent of criminal defendants in Orleans Parish are poor and depend on public defenders to work on their case, according to the newspaper. As with many other municipal court systems nationwide, judges in the parish typically issue warrants for defendants who fail to pay court fees and fines that accumulate interest when they go unpaid. All too often, low-income defendants end up in jail or authorities confiscate their property for nonpayment—pushing them deeper into poverty.
In her ruling, Vance pointed out the obvious “institutional conflict of interest” in Orleans Parish. Proceeds from the fines and fees go directly to the court’s Judicial Expense Fund, which the judges control and accumulate to about $1 million annually. At the same, the judges also get to determine whether defendants can afford to pay, and in nearly every case the parish’s 13 judges never bother to inquire.
Vicious Tweets Dragging Trump's Black Pastors
1. Black Pastors Slammed For Meeting With Trump
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PASTOR’S PRAISE: At a meeting with inner city pastors, Darrell Scott of Ohio tells Trump he is “the most pro-black president” is recent history who “actually wants to prove something to our community.” “The last president didn’t feel like he had to,” Scott told the President. pic.twitter.com/gyFJNN71Qg— World News Tonight (@ABCWorldNews) August 1, 2018
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#DonkeyOfTheDay #DonkeyOfTheYear Pro-Trump Pastor Darrell Scott said Wednesday during a White House gathering of faith leaders that he thinks President Trump will be “the most pro-black president” in his lifetime. pic.twitter.com/E4NKlQ0apC— O. G. Jackson (@BossHogg6) August 3, 2018
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EXCLUSIVE WHITE HOUSE FOOTAGE:@PastorDScott being greeted by @realDonaldTrump immediately after WH meeting with black pastors where Scott declared that Trump was “the most pro black president of our lifetime.”— Bishop Talbert Swan (@TalbertSwan) August 3, 2018
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And to the Black women who love the likes of John Gray and Paula White and that whole ilk — conservative theology is largely antiBlack and antiwoman and is a natural bedfellow for the white supremacist sexist madness of Trump.— Brittney Cooper (@ProfessorCrunk) August 2, 2018
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Sitting at the table aligning yourselves with trump who insisted on the Death Penalty for 5 innocent black boys and who still insists that they’re guilty despite the facts - discussing prison reform is beyond ridiculous. John Gray et al. #FailedLeaders #ThursdayThoughts pic.twitter.com/0wmo7FXLoz— DawnKA (@DawnKA) August 2, 2018
Judge Delivers ‘Victory’ In Battle To Stop Courts From Jailing Poor People Over Unpaid Fines was originally published on newsone.com