The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law established its Criminal Justice Project (CJP) to challenge racial disparities within the criminal justice system that result from the criminalization of poverty and contribute to mass incarceration. People of color and the poor face unequal justice when law enforcement and court operations prioritize revenue-generation over public safety.  Local jails are being filled by the repeated arrest of individuals who cannot afford to pay court-imposed fines and fees associated with misdemeanors and other low-level poverty-related offenses, like writing hot checks, driving without a license, and having expired insurance.  Some jurisdictions even address juvenile status offenses like truancy and curfew violations with heavy fines and fees.  Compounding these issues is the rapid expansion of community corrections, which subjects 4.5 million people to the perpetual threat of incarceration as the result of probation and parole violations, including non-payment of fines and fees.

Likewise, people of color and the poor disproportionately face the threat of incarceration as the result of pretrial practices that rely on “money bail” and formulaic rather than individualized bail determinations.  These practices are particularly harmful when jurisdictions fail to provide individuals with the effective assistance of counsel guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. Because these inequalities are rampant within the American criminal justice system, mass incarceration—a major promotor of economic inequality—has exploded.

Any questions? Contact the Criminal Justice Project at: [email protected] or 1-866-996-7921 

Featured Issue

Though debtors’ prisons are by law unconstitutional, recent decades have seen a marked rise in the number of individuals who are nonetheless incarcerated for failing to pay either public or private debts. The 1980s and 1990s marked a significant increase in the number of state and county justice systems that imposed fees and fines on individuals who interacted with the justice system. The problem has been exacerbated in the 21st century as “offender-funded justice”—a system where the accused offender must pay the cost of his or her own prosecution, incarceration, and rehabilitation—has been popularized.

Regardless of its need for revenue, a state may not punish individuals just because they are poor. The rights afforded by the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protect an individual from arrest, detention, incarceration, or imposition of other penalties, solely because of an inability to pay a court-imposed fine, cost, fee, or restitution.

Bail Reform on CSPAN

Fines and Fees

Arkansas Tool Kit

 

In March 2019, the Criminal Justice Project of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law produced its report, “Too Poor to Pay: How Arkansas’s Offender-Funded Justice System Fuels Mass Incarceration.

Read Full Report

 

 

 

Washington County

 

Mahoney v. Derrick – Indigent Incarceration Fines, Fees, and Bail:

 

Dade v. Sherwood (2016) Indigent Incarceration – Fines and Fees

 

Cain v. City of New Orleans (2015) Indigent Incarceration – Fines and Fees

 

Justice Network v. Craighead County, et al.

Pre-Trial & Bail Reform

Alice Hughes v. 4 Aces Bail Bonds Inc (2018)

 

O’Donnell v. Harris County, et al.

Policing

Dialogue on Race & Policing:  Community-based project convenes local government, academic, civil rights, and law enforcement leaders for facilitated conversations on the historical and modern-day interplay of race and policing, followed by a working-session to develop recommended actions for improving trust and accountability between police and community residents.

 

Law Enforcement Data

 

P.R.O.T.E.C.T.  Joint initiative with the National Black Law Students Association launched in response to #LivingWhileBlack complaints, which led to police use-of-force incidents on college and university campuses involving black students and students with mental illness

Full Report

Indigent Defense/ Right To Counsel
Public Education

Tips for Counter Protesters and Law Enforcement

Baltimore Consumer Bail Project – Provides direct representation for individuals being sued by bail bond companies, with a particular focus on those who have had body attachments issued against them and face incarceration due to inability to pay the attachment amounts.

Media Coverage (The Daily Record)

Media Coverage (Medium)