Tuesday, March 18, 2014

How Wall Street plunders the poor through the courts

Here's a story that shows exactly how Wall Street uses the government to loot what little money poor people have. 

No, it isn't charging fees for low-wage workers to use bank debit cards they receive instead of wages. It's something more nefarious. 

Wall Street investors bought a private probation company that charges poor people fees to collect their traffic fines. If they don't pay, the probation company uses the courts to put the debtor in jail. 

Debtors prisons are unconstitutional. The Supreme Court ruled in 1983 that it's a violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment to jail a probationer for failure to pay a fine without inquiring first into that person’s ability to pay. But the Constitution doesn't stop Wall Street.

Anyhoo, here's the story: A poor woman in her 50s named Debra Ford went to jail in Harpersville, Ala., because she couldn't pay her traffic fines. 

She was pulled aside because her taillight was out. She didn't have a license either, because she hadn't been able to pay a previous traffic fine and her license was revoked. The officer handed her tickets that amounted to $745 for driving without a license or proof of insurance.

Debra Ford then became victim of an extortion racket run by the Harpersville Municipal Court and a private probation company called Judicial Corrections Services. JCS  collects fines and court costs, skimming off some for itself in the form of a monthly fee. 

Debra Ford couldn't pay JCS's monthly fee or her traffic fines, so she went to jail for seven weeks. She was charged $31 a day for her stay in jail. After 43 days in jail, her debt rose to $2,736. 

You really have to ask: Is that what this country has come to? Debtors' prisons?

Well, yeah. The ACLU and the Brennan Center recently reported America’s jails are increasingly becoming debtors’ prisons as higher fees are levied on individuals who wind upin jail because they can’t pay their bills or fines imposed by judges. 

Fortunately, an Alabama Circuit Court Judge seized control of the Harpersville Municipal Court. Judge Hub Harrington erased Ford's debts and those of 929 other poor people who'd been looted by the court. 

Unfortunately, JCS is running its court-assisted extortion racket in 479 courts across the country, looting as much as $1 million from contracts with larger courts. 

Worse, as The Nation reports, 
...a prison healthcare corporation called Correctional Healthcare Companies bought JCS, allowing its new parent company to expand into the supervision and enforcement industry. And six months after Judge Harrington’s ruling, GTCR, a Chicago-based private equity firm, bought Correctional Healthcare Companies, including its wholly owned subsidiary JCS. It was a sign that the finance world believed criminal justice would remain good business.