Being Poor in America Is Increasingly IllegalS

In the United States of America, we do not have debtors' prison. Right? Oh, so wrong. The financial and legal penalties for being poor in America are only getting worse.

If you are arrested for a misdemeanor, you may be fined. In many parts of America, collection of these fines may be farmed out to private companies. These companies are essentially bill collectors. They make their money by adding fees onto the fines imposed upon you by the court. These fees are often quite substantial. Poor people can often not afford to pay. For some of them, a misdemeanor can snowball into a years-long legal nightmare. The NYT has an excellent story today on this phenomenon. For example:

In Georgia, three dozen for-profit probation companies operate in hundreds of courts, and there have been similar lawsuits. In one, Randy Miller, 39, an Iraq war veteran who had lost his job, was jailed after failing to make child support payments of $860 a month. In another, Hills McGee, with a monthly income of $243 in veterans benefits, was charged with public drunkenness, assessed $270 by a court and put on probation through a private company. The company added a $15 enrollment fee and $39 in monthly fees. That put his total for a year above $700, which Mr. McGee, 53, struggled to meet before being jailed for failing to pay it all.

Broke states. Broke counties. Private probation. Private prisons. Maybe add a little lottery revenue? Casinos? Anything to squeeze a little extra revenue from the county's subjects. Blood from a rock? Unfamiliar with the expression.

[NYT. Photo: AP]