WASHINGTON, D.C. – Myesha Braden, Director of Criminal Justice Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, commented Thursday on a report released by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights highlighting the injustices perpetuated against poor and minority communities through the collection of fines and fees in the criminal justice system:
“The imposition of fines and fees on poor people and minorities as a method of revenue generation is a major component of mass incarceration. The harmful results of this practice, including the incarceration of individuals for no other reason than their poverty, undermines the basic principle of our criminal justice system—equal justice for all.
“The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is working to end indigent incarceration, a pervasive issue which results from the unconstitutional jailing of poor defendants who are unable to pay court fines, fees, and bail costs.
"We applaud the Commission’s recommendations, particularly calling on courts and cities to clearly evaluate an individual’s ability to pay before imposing a fine or fee and removing any conflicts of interest that perpetuate the for-profit system that has unfairly punished so many.
"We also strongly urge the Justice Department to continue efforts initiated in 2015 by the Ferguson report to advance and incentivize national reform of the imposition of local court fines and fees."
The report found that in some cities, fines and fees collected by law enforcement from poor and minority citizens serves as a revenue generator rather than an effort to improve public safety. Such practices, the report found, “undermines public confidence in the judicial system.”
Through its Criminal Justice Project, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is working to address racial disparities within the criminal justice system and on behalf of indigent defendants.
Next month, the Lawyers Committee will return to the Federal District Court in New Orleans, Louisiana to present an oral argument in favor of its Motion for Partial Summary Judgment in a lawsuit against the judges of the New Orleans Criminal District Court, Judicial Administrator Rob Kazik and Sheriff Marlin Gusman, for operating an unconstitutional scheme of jailing people who cannot afford to pay court fines and fees, and using revenue from that system to finance the Court’s budget.
Last month, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law moved to file a “friend of the court” brief in Arkansas in a case involving a for-profit bail company which has substantially profited off the backs of poor defendants.
The report released by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is available online.