Welcome to debtors prison criminalizing being poor in America

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Welcome to debtors prison criminalizing being poor in America

Here is a tale that sounds like it comes right from the pages of “Little Dorrit,” Charles Dickens’s scathing indictment of Victorian England’s debtors’ prisons. Unfortunately, it is happening in 21st-century America.

Edwina Nowlin, a poor Michigan resident, was ordered to reimburse a juvenile detention center $104 a month for holding her 16-year-old son. When she explained to the court that she could not afford to pay, Ms. Nowlin was sent to prison.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, which helped get her out last week after she spent 28 days behind bars, says it is seeing more people being sent to jail because they cannot make various court-ordered payments. That is both barbaric and unconstitutional.

Not only was Nowlin under orders to pay a fine stemming from someone else’s actions, but she had been laid off from work and lost her home at the time she was ordered to “reimburse” the county for her son’s detention.

Despite her inability to pay, she was held in contempt of court and ordered to serve a 30-day sentence.

On March 6, three days after she was incarcerated, she was released for one day to work. She also picked up her paycheck, in the amount of $178.53. This, she thought, could be used to pay the $104, and she would be released from jail.

But when she got back to the jail, the sheriff told her to sign her check over to the county — to pay $120 for her own room and board, and $22 for a drug test and booking fee.

Even more absurd, Nowlin requested but was denied a court-appointed lawyer. So because she was too poor to afford a lawyer and denied her constitutional right to have the court provide one for her, she couldn’t fight the contempt charge that stemmed from her poverty. And her contempt conviction only added to her poverty, as the fines and fees she was obligated to pay now multiplied.

“Like many people in these desperate economic times, Ms. Nowlin was laid off from work, lost her home and is destitute,” said Michael Steinberg, legal director of the Michigan ACLU.

“Jailing her because of her poverty is not only unconstitutional, it’s unconscionable and a shameful waste of resources. It is not a crime to be poor in this country, and the government must stop resurrecting debtor’s prisons from the dustbin of history.”

More ... http://www.nytimes.com/2009...
and
 http://dissidentvoice.org/2...
By netchicken: posted on 29-4-2009








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