ACLU Sues Washington County for Operating a Debtors Prison

In many states, if you are convicted of a crime you will be charged a fee for the cost of prosecution (and sometimes defense). Then, after you have served your time, you can be tossed in jail again if you don’t pay those fees.

Charging criminal defendants for the cost of prosecuting them makes a certain kind of sense. The problem is that many criminal defendants can’t afford those fees, so the end result is debtors prison. It is unjust, and the ACLU is looking to make an example of Benton County, Washington. It’s not a random choice. “[L]ast year, an NPR analysis of jail records found that about 1 out of every 4 people in jail for a misdemeanor offense was there because he failed to pay court fines and fees.”

That’s insane. A quarter of the people in jail for a misdemeanor in Benton County are there because they didn’t pay court fees! Sounds like the ACLU lawsuit was long overdue, if anything.