Who Should Pay For the Criminal Justice System?
Thanks to Adam Liptak for calling attention to an underreported story and an underappreciated problem.
Almost every encounter with the criminal justice system these days can give rise to a fee. There are application fees and co-payments for public defenders. Sentences include court costs, restitution and contributions to various funds. In Washington State, people convicted of certain crimes are also charged $100 so their DNA can be put in a database. ...
The sums raised by these ever-mounting fees are intended to help offset some of the enormous costs of operating the criminal justice system. But even relatively small fees -- $40 per session, say, for a court-ordered anger management class or $15 for a drug test -- can have devastating consequences for people who emerge from prison with no money, credit or prospects, and who live in fear of being sent back for failing to pay.
Governments increasingly balance their budgets by imposing "user fees" on the individuals it drags into the court system. Those individuals are disproportionately poor, and it isn't unusual for them to sit jail time in lieu of paying fines and court costs. Liberty should not depend on wealth, and we shouldn't impose hidden taxes on the people who can least afford to pay them.
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