Originally published November 10 2015
Austin, Texas, comes under fire for running a modern-day debtors' prison
by L.J. Devon, Staff Writer
(NaturalNews) Liberal policies are destroying the will of the impoverished living in inner cities, holding them down with social programs that restrict their individual freedom to succeed. Socialist ideologies have caused many poor people to fall into a cycle of envy, teaching them to hate the rich, to despise success. It's this ideology that traps many people into accepting a life of no passion or personal achievement. The rejection and disdain toward success and riches will always hold a person captive to poverty.
Perpetual and increasing taxation of entrepreneurial endeavors stifles the freedom and opportunity for the disadvantaged to overcome their poverty. In their dismay, the impoverished turn against the foundation of their cities and resort to thievery and even burning of businesses (Ferguson, Mo). A hate for authority builds.
As tensions rise, the energy of an authoritarian state grows more aggressive and discriminatory. Authoritarian, policing-for-profit schemes have become the way for cities to manage the chaos and it hurts the poor the most, sucking them dry and driving a deeper wedge in between the people.
Now municipal courts are holding people in "debtors' prisons"because they are unable to pay the fines for petty offenses. This is the case in Austin, Texas, where a federal class action lawsuit is accusing the city of jailing poor people because they can't pay traffic tickets. "Debtors' prisons" lawsuits are popping up all over the US, from New Orleans to San Francisco to Jennings, Missouri in Saint Louis.
Policing for profit giving rise to modern day debtor's prisonsThe lawsuit in Austin, taken up by the American Civil Liberties Union, states that debtor' prisons "create a racially skewed, two-tiered system of justice in which the poor receive harsher, longer punishments for committing the same crimes as the rich, simply because they are poor." Lead plaintiffs Valeria Gonzales and Maria Salazar allege that the city of Austin has violated their right to counsel, due process, and equal protection.
When Gonzalez was jailed for driving without a license in a car accident in August 2015, she was held captive with no way to pay because she was unemployed and straddling the poverty line. She and her husband needed all their money to feed and shelter the five disabled children they had been taking care of.
"At the jail, the officers treated her as they would treat a dangerous mentally ill person because she was crying as a result of the car accident," the complaint states. "They handcuffed her, stripped her naked, forced her to wear a mask over her face, and locked her alone in an observation cell. After about thirty minutes, one guard concluded that this harsh treatment was unnecessary. Officers then allowed Ms. Gonzales to dress and took her to a hospital to be checked for injuries from the car accident. After Ms. Gonzales returned from the hospital, she waited more than twelve hours to see an Austin Municipal Court judge."
When she saw the judge, he gave her an ultimatum: pay $1,000 that she didn't have or go to jail. The judge did not consider community service or any other way to reduce the debts. The court didn't even offer her right to counsel as they jailed her for two days. When a pro bono attorney showed up to the scene, he demanded she be released because she was being unconstitutionally incarcerated. After spending two days in debtors' prison, she was eventually released to complete 395 hours of community service.
The other plaintiff in the case, Salazar, presented a similar case. She was jailed without receiving legal counsel or any alternative way to pay her debts.
Upon further investigation, the Austin Municipal Court rarely waives debts and only adds fees to them. Out of 600,000 cases, they only waived 11 cases in court and jailed more than 2,000 people.
Extra court fees and fines make create a perpetual debt sentence for the poorPaying off the debts is made harder by court rules that add fees to the process of paying off the fines. If someone doesn't have the money up front, they get cycled into a perpetual debt sentence. When a person enters a payment play, the court instates a $25 per ticket fee. A $50 "capias pro fine" is also instated when a debtor fails to make a payment or attend community service, making it that much harder. A $66 ticket can escalate into a $500 fine. Many have no choice but to go in and out of jail.
Both women contend that the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Constitution protects people like them from being prosecuted and jailed for petty crimes, including Class C misdemeanors.
"The Due Process Clause requires courts to hold an ability to pay hearing before jailing a poor person for failure to pay a criminal judgment debt. ... The court must inquire into the reason the person failed to pay and consider alternatives to jail, such as tailoring the debt to the person's resources," the complaint states.
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