From The Boston Globe
They call it “fine-time” — a questionable practice in which defendants “pay off” court fines and fees by serving time behind bars, even if they never committed a crime deserving of jail time in the first place.
A sampling of cases in Massachusetts from last year showed more than 100 instances in which defendants were sent to jail because they could not afford to pay a fine, a practice first laid bare in the federal investigation into the criminal justice system in Ferguson, Mo., two years ago, sparking outcries of discrimination in that state.
The 105 examples were cited in a report to be filed this week by the state Senate Committee on Post Audit and Oversight. Among them:
A defendant charged with driving under the influence of alcohol was ordered to serve 25 days in jail for failing to pay $760 in fines and fees. “Do I have any say on this? Like, any defense?” the defendant asked.
In Leominster District Court, a defendant who owed $175 two years after a shoplifting offense was sent to jail, even though he told the judge he intended to pay the money within a month.
A third case was described to the Globe directly by the defendant, identified as James K. He told state officials he was looking to get his driver’s license, so that he could apply for a job, after serving prison time for a robbery in New York City when he was a teenager, he said. However, he had outstanding fines for a drug arrest years earlier in Dudley District Court.
When he returned to Dudley last year looking to address the fines, he said he was told he owed more than $1,000. He said he could not pay, that he had stayed in a homeless shelter the night before. He was sent to jail for 36 days.
“I was in disbelief, saying ‘You’re going to lock me up because I can’t pay a fine?’?” said James K, who asked that his last name not be used to protect his privacy during job searches.
"It’s counterintuitive,” he said. “I was sent to jail because I was poor.”
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