In its violent crackdowns on demonstrations since a white police officer shot 18-year-old Michael Brown in early August, Ferguson police revealed a fresh proclivity for abusing its citizens. However, the city’s finances suggest the St. Louis suburb’s criminal justice system has been stealthily exploiting residents—particularly those who are black or poor—for years. Ferguson’s economy steadily withered over the last decade, as did its population. Yet even as the number of adult residents fell 11% between 2010 and 2013, fines collected by the city’s court system surged 85%, hitting $2.6 million last year.
That revenue stream has become an increasingly critical part of the city’s budget:
Of course, it may be that residents are simply breaking laws more frequently. But the share of arrests for petty offenses suggests something else at play.
In fact, arresting people for minor violations is exactly the point, as Brendan Roediger, professor at the Saint Louis University School of Law and supervisor of a local civil advocacy clinic, told Governing magazine. “They don’t want to actually incarcerate people because it costs money, so they fine them,” Roediger said, adding that Ferguson’s court sometimes hears as many as 300 cases per hour.
Most people wrongly associate this shameful practice with states in the Deep South. Unfortunately, it has been gaining traction everywhere, including in California. Professor Thomas Byrne Edsall recently wrote an op-ed entitled “The Expanding World of Poverty Capitalism.”
“In Orange County, Calif., the probation department’s “supervised electronic confinement program,” which monitors the movements of low-risk offenders, has been outsourced to a private company, Sentinel Offender Services. The company, by its own account, oversees case management, including breath alcohol and drug-testing services, “all at no cost to county taxpayers.”” Click hereto read the full article on the New York Times website.
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