According to a Tuesday New York Times article, an increasing number of cash-strapped American cities are punishing minor legal infractions with fees as a way of adding a little extra money to their coffers. And because they don't have the resources to adequately fund their courts and prisons, these same cities wind up recruiting for-profit corporations to mete out punishment.
This policy of charging punitive fees, then jailing people for being too poor to pay them, is part of a larger trend that sociologist Barbara Ehrenreich calls "the criminalization of poverty." She writes: "In defiance of all reason and compassion, the criminalization of poverty has actually intensified as the weakened economy generates ever more poverty." As joblessness and poverty spike, and the state institutions charged with assisting the needy whither away, the government instead reacts to poverty with authoritarian, punitive measures.
[...] the analogy would be what the Brennan Center calls "poverty penalties:"
"additional late fees, payment plan fees, and interest when individuals are unable to pay their debts all at once, often enriching private debt collectors in the process."
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