For-Profit Companies Are Charging Massive Fines For Traffic Violations

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As town budgets dwindle, it becomes even more necessary to wring every last dollar possible out of residents.For many towns, that might mean going after residents who have failed to pay fines on misdemeanours, such as driving offenses.

The New York Times’ Ethan Bronner profiled two poor Alabama residents who wracked up fines for pretty minor driving offenses only to incur bigger fees imposed by the for-profit probation company the court appointed to monitor the cases.

Gina Ray was initially fined $179 for speeding. She didn’t appear in court — claiming her ticket bore the wrong court date — had her licence revoked and was again pulled over.

She was ticketed for driving without a licence. At this point she owed more than $1,500.

Once Ray was unable to pay her fines, a private probation company stepped in, jailed her, and charged her even more fees for the days she spent behind bars, The New York Times reported.

She now owes more than $3,000 in fines.

“With so many towns economically strapped, there is growing pressure on the courts to bring in money rather than mete out justice,” Lisa W. Borden, a partner at Alabama-based Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz told the Times. “The companies they hire are aggressive.”

The money brought in from these types of fines is used to fund retirement accounts for court officials, police training, and in some cases, the court’s computer system, Southern centre for Human Rights President Stephen Bright told the Times.

The problem isn’t native to just Alabama. The Brennan centre for Justice studied in 2010 the fee structure of 15 states and found state governments are imposing excessive fines on residents.

“Yet far from being easy money, these fees impose severe — and often hidden — costs on communities, taxpayers and indigent people convicted of crimes,” the report claimed.

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