"Guilty and Charged" raises Constitutional Questions about Charging Poor for Attorney, Jailhouse Room & Board
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May 19, 2014; Washington, D.C. – An extensive investigation by NPR News into the criminal justice systems governing each of the 50 states found an explosive growth in the practice of passing off the costs of due process to defendants, driven by a 700% increase in the number of domestic incarcerations over the past 40 years. "Guilty and Charged", a multi-part investigative series by NPR news correspondent Joe Shapiro, discovered startling evidence that this growing trend often places an unequal financial burden on poor Americans that, when compounded with an overloaded justice system, resembles a modern day debtor's prison.
"Guilty and Charged" airs today, May 19 - Wednesday, May 21, on the NPR newsmagazines All Things Considered and Morning Edition (find local stations and broadcast times at www.NPR.org/stations), along with additional online reports at NPR.org.
In "Guilty and Charged", Shapiro painstakingly traces the justice-related charges that many cash-strapped states have been quietly passing off to defendants. When Shapiro surveyed these fines and fees across each state, in the District of Columbia and pored through an entire year of jail records for Benton County, Washington, he uncovered disturbing evidence that states and even private service providers often gain financially by hinging a defendants' freedom on the depths of their pockets.
"Guilty and Charged" demonstrates how failure to pay justice-related fees, which are often arbitrary and used to finance everything from "free" public defenders, to private probation services and even state-of-the-art gyms for state employees, can result in time served behind bars for low-level offenses that don't otherwise carry jail sentences. The result is a two-tiered punishment system that is directly at odds with the Fourteenth Amendment.
Some of the key findings:
Since 2010, 48 states have added and/or increased court-related fees
At least 43 states have billed defendants for the cost of a public defender
41 states can charge inmates for room and board in jail/prison
Offenders can be billed for their own probation and/or parole supervision in at least 44 states. The growing tendency to privatize these services can minimize state oversight and diminish the accountability of for-profit companies.
49 states charge for electronic monitoring bracelets related to home detention.
Some states compound fees with penalties for missed payments, add high interest rates, and incarcerate those who fail to pay.
In Benton County, Wash., 25 percent of the misdemeanor defendants in jail on any given day are there for not paying fines and fees.
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