The Brennan Center Reports

The proliferation of what NBC News described as a “new generation of debtors’ prisons” – the jailing of people unable to pay fines imposed by state and local courts as punishment for minor crimes – continues to raise ethical and constitutional questions.

“The burden of revenue for [the] vastly expanding criminal justice system has been shifted to those who find themselves defendants in courts or inmates in prisons,” Lauren-Brooke Eisen recently told The New York Times, which highlighted a New Orleans lawsuit alleging that judges and court officials are targeting the city’s poorest residents with these fines.

Practically, these policies rarely benefit the communities that impose them; as Inimai Chettiar told Mother Jones, “Having taxpayers foot a bill of $4,000 to incarcerate a man who owes the state $745 … makes sense in no reasonable world.”

As CNN noted, a recent Brennan Center report, Charging Inmates Perpetuates Mass Incarceration, those already in prison are increasingly subject to “incarceration fees.” For example, one Florida inmate was released after a three-year prison term and billed for $55,000, a staggering amount for someone with no meaningful income.

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