Opinion: Out of Debtors’ Prison, With Law as the Key

Source: Tina Rosenberg, New York Times, March 27, 2015

…. You don’t go to jail for walking your dog without a leash, making an illegal left turn or burning leaves without a permit, but in many states you will go to jail if you can’t pay the resulting fees and fines. We have a two-tier system: The rich pay fines. The poor go to jail….The injustices are compounded when governments contract with private companies to manage probation, as they do in 13 states, according to Nusrat Choudhury, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union. These companies offer their services free to a city — and then charge offenders fees sometimes as large as or larger than their debt, with jail the penalty for nonpayment. In many cases, debt collection is the only service they perform. Human Rights Watch has said that most states that use private probation ”do not currently subject probation companies to any meaningful oversight or regulation at all.”…