Department of Justice Discourages Courts From Jailing People Over Unpaid Fines

The Department of Justice has distributed a letter to courts around the nation discouraging them from jailing low-income individuals over unpaid fines and fees.

NBC News reports that the DOJ sent the memo to state judges yesterday, urging them to implement a system that would replace the oft-used practice of using jail as a punishment, citing that it infringes on constitutional rights and frays community trust.

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“Furthermore, in addition to being unlawful, to the extent that these practices are geared not toward addressing public safety, but rather toward raising revenue, they can cast doubt on the impartiality of the tribunal and erode trust between local governments and their constituents,” reads the letter. 

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The letter says that local officials value revenue over residents’ rights, though oftentimes, those individuals are trapped in a cycle of poverty and debt.

To spur these changes, the Department of Justice is offering $2.5 million in grants to state and local governments who are interested in introducing new systems that would overhaul their current ones.