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Being Poor and Black in America is a Crime -- Especially When You Are in Prison and Can't Afford Bail!

Poor people imprisoned because they can't afford bail

About a year ago, the U.S. Department of Justice declared that the current bail system--wherein offenders are confined to jail when they can't afford bail--is unconstitutional. Despite that, many are still being punished and imprisoned, especially those who are poor, when they are unable to pay bail to get out.
Among several previous cases that involves a poor defendant accused of a nonviolent charge, most of them had to stay in jail because they can't afford the bail money. It had been deemed an unfair practice considering that there are some judges that issue court fees and fines while completely ignoring their financial situation and jailing them when they fail to pay.

According to records, over 60 percent of people in jail haven't even gone into trial and about 90 percent stay in jail because they can't afford bail. Because of this, they can lose jobs, housing, and even custody of their child, even though they are not yet proven guilty.

In hopes to eliminate that, U.S. District Judge Sarah S. Vance ruled that the 14th Amendment does not allow imprisoning criminal defendants who cannot afford to pay the court-ordered fees and fines without giving them the chance to plead poverty.

The ruling ended the three-year lawsuit against Orleans Parish Criminal District Court judges who were discovered to be issuing fees against defendants who can't even afford an attorney. It also exposed the "conflict of interest" in the institution wherein $1 million of the fees collected yearly goes to funds for judges' benefits and staff salaries.

President and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Kristen Clarke, is hoping the ruling could indeed make changes.

"America treats being poor as a crime, disproportionately victimizing people of color... This ruling ensures that people can no longer be thrown in jail in New Orleans Parish for their poverty alone," she told NPR, noting that "state officials should take this as their cue [to] begin the necessary work required to end this 'user-pay' justice system, built on the backs of the poor, once and for all."

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