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Vol. 21 - Issue 3

Law Day 2021: Advancing the Rule of Law Now (Series 3 of 3)

Fees & Fines Under Law

Special spotlight issue exploring contemporary concerns related to fees and fines in the justice system in the United States. Law Day 2021 explores “Advancing the Rule of Law Now.”

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The Bail Bond System and the Rule of Law

You’re probably familiar with mass incarceration in the United States. The phrase refers to the extraordinary rate at which we imprison our population, and the shameful, disparate rates at which we imprison persons of color. The numbers are familiar, but nevertheless shocking. In all, we incarcerated about 1.8 million people in 2020 in state and federal prisons and local jails.

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Fees and Fines: The Criminalization of Poverty

In April of 2016, a 30-year-old woman from St. Louis was accused of stealing a tube of mascara from a Walmart and was arrested for shoplifting. She said that she threw away the package and forgot to pay the $8.74 for the mascara. She served jail time, received a fine and was put on probation. When she did not appear at a probation hearing, she was sent back to jail. She fell behind on payments and was sent to jail again. Her board jail bill is now more than $10,000.

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Fines, Fees, and the Right to Vote

Voting is the core right of a democracy—the way in which the voice of each citizen finds its way into government. Efforts to keep someone from voting should therefore be of paramount concern. In the Jim Crow era, states enacted a number of laws to impede black people from voting, including residency and property restrictions, literacy tests, and poll taxes. The effort was enormously effective and only with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was the use of these discriminatory restrictions banned.

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