A recent study shows that Alabama residents have committed crimes just to pay their court fees. In the state of Alabama, fee structures mean that offenders pay for the system. This can mean unmanageable fees and fines for those who are already struggling. According to reports, not only have the collections fallen short of predictions, but offenders who are bound by court costs are often forced into other crimes just to pay off their debts. A recent study performed by the Jefferson County community program, Treatment Alternatives for Safer Communities (TASC), found that the policy leaves offenders bogged down by debts they cannot pay.
When faced with a choice of a burdensome court debt that could land defendants back in jail, many of them are forced to commit crimes to pay to feed their children and pay the court. Our Birmingham criminal defense attorneys are committed to seeking justice for our clients and their families. In addition to providing strategic defense to our clients, we are also abreast of legal issues that impact the lives of residents. One way to prevent the exorbitant court costs that fund Alabama’s criminal justice system, is to defeat the underlying charges.
The study, called The Burden of Criminal Justice Debt in Alabama, shows that former defendants who have struggled to pay court costs have turned to payday loans, family members, and even crime to get ahead. Data showed that 55% had to borrower money from family or friends. Six out of ten offenders had to choose between court costs and necessities, including food or medical bills. Others admitted to selling drugs, stealing, gambling or prostitution to pay their court costs. The survey assessed the payment history and records of 900 non-violent offenders who were on probation or supervision throughout Alabama. In addition to struggling to get jobs, many of these defendants are also struggling to get out of debt. They have court costs and fees that they cannot pay off which in turn has led to additional crimes, and naturally, more victims.
The cycle is simple, but detrimental to the residents of Alabama. Not only does it prevent convicted offenders from getting ahead, but it also increases the risk of crimes. Crime leads to debt and more crimes which can result in prison and high-costs for the state, not to mention the number of victims, including individuals, families and businesses. In the end, it is the taxpayers who end up footing the bill for the debts.
In the event that a debtor cannot pay the court, they will return to jail. The report indicated that 18% of Alabama offenders were forced to return to prison for failure to pay court costs. In some counties that number was as high as 63%. This system disproportionately impacts the poor who already struggle to find employment. Paying high court costs can prevent them from ever buying a car or getting a job. In the worst cases, court costs leave them unable to care for their families.