Imagine this: You accidentally park your car illegally. A police officer issues two citations and a $250 fine. In addition to the $250 you now owe, there are fees associated with processing the fine that must be paid. You now owe the court $500. Unfortunately, you can’t spare $500 to pay off the fine and its associated fees. When you are supposed to show up in court, you’re unable to because you don’t have reliable access to a car. You’re issued a $500 fine for failing to appear in court and an arrest warrant is issued. You are now incarcerated and owe $1,000 plus fees.
What do you do? You ask the court if you can enroll in a payment plan and pay the fine off in stages, $25 here, $50 there. The court declines and says you must pay the amount owed in full. You can’t pay the full amount and you can’t show up to your court dates because you have unreliable transportation, so your debt to the court continues to accrue. You’re over $1,000 in debt all because of one parking ticket.
This can’t be true. This story may sound unlikely, but for so many, it is an unfortunate reality. Individuals and their families are facing insurmountable debt or even incarceration all because of a parking or speeding ticket. On this episode of Justice Above All, Dr. Kesha Moore traces the history of fines and fees and outlines how localities are fining some of their poorest residents as a way to generate revenue for their budgets.
Episode: Fines, Fees, and Racial Wealth Extraction
There's a deep history rooted in the relationship between fines and fees and the oppression of Black people in this country.
Cortney SandersCenter on Budget and Policy Priorities
I can't underscore how common it is to be subject to an overburdened system and think that that's normal. Or to think that you don't have a way out in this, this is just how it is, and because I didn't pay, I'm just going to have to now have this life where I'm constantly in fear.
Katurah ToppsLegal Defense Fund
Basically we're charging very poor people fees to cover our government administrative costs for punishment. So it's, um, a pretty significant burden when you're thinking about the vulnerable communities that are being targeted.
Emily Harris Ella Baker Center
The average Black and Latinx household earns about half as much as the average white household and owns about 15-20%as much net wealth. The racial wealth gap has increased over the past few decades, so when a locality issues a majority of its fines and fees to its low wealth residents who are disproportionately Black and brown, it is another form of racial wealth extraction.
Who Pays? The True Cost of Incarceration on Families
This report reveals the overwhelming debt, mental and physical ailments and severed family bonds that are some of the hidden consequences of mass incarceration in the U.S.