Serving prison or jail time can feel like the biggest obstacle to moving on with your life after a conviction. However, many Americans who’ve completed their incarceration are still living half-lives. For citizens with criminal records, lingering court fees and fines have made it impossible to move forward after serving their time. The importance of clearing one’s record cannot be stressed enough. With a criminal record, many convicts find themselves trapped in dead-end jobs unable to move forward. The court fees preventing those with criminal records from starting over with a clean slate are typically unaffordable. Unpaid court fees typically include charges for booking fees, testing costs, and room and board during incarceration. Once a party misses a couple payments, they find themselves trapped in a vicious cycle of paying late fees and penalties, which only makes it even more difficult to pay off the remaining debt. These debts present a serious obstacle preventing many citizens from regaining access to voting rights or driving privileges.
A Fresh Start is Out of Reach in 49 States
According to research from the Sentencing Project, as many as 100 million Americans are in the system with criminal records. When reviewing court debt policy across the country, researchers found that only one state provided expungement or record clearing without considering the status of court debt payments. The remaining 49 states either have a written court debt policy or don’t require full payment but could require disclosure on any forms or applications. Criminal record clearing has become something of an additional penalty for poor and minority citizens. Being able to start over after a criminal conviction shouldn’t only be reserved for those with the ability to pay.
Court Debt Penalizes Poverty
Having a criminal record can mean you are denied access to a better life. When given the opportunity to move on from transgressions in the past, most people jump at the chance. When researchers investigated the court debt problem further, they found that most people weren’t paying the fees because they couldn’t afford to do so. Since completing their incarceration, many citizens with court debt sadly realize that they may never be able to pay these fees and fines because they can grow over time if not handled immediately. The reluctance of many states to eliminate court debt for the indigent means many convicts will continue to be punished for their poverty. When court debt presents an insurmountable obstacle to access to voting rights and driving privileges, it’s no longer a simple issue. The fees have become a means of denying important rights and services to people simply because they are impoverished – many of them have limited earning potential because they are denied access to record-cleaning.
What is the Best Path to a Second Chance?
Many states are offering record-clearing days, which many convicts believe is their best access to a fresh start. However, when the state sees court debt as a means of generating revenue or the system, it can make officials less likely to support programs designed to help less fortunate convicts lobby for court debt forgiveness. The state hopes to be repaid by these indebted individuals, but research has shown
that states are very unlikely to ever recover funds from those without the necessary expendable income to pay these fees. Essentially, court debt hurts more people than it helps – including the state. For most people with criminal records, unpaid court fees are the last remaining obstacle to a different life. Many advocates are pushing for states to make access to record-clearing available regardless of one’s ability to pay outstanding court debt. Remodeling these laws will take some time, but working toward a solution is the only way to provide a fair and equitable system.
Jonathan Blecher, P.A., Miami Criminal Defense Attorney
At Jonathan Blecher, P.A., our office provides clients with a robust criminal defense. We work hard to ensure each client receives the strongest defense possible. Attorney Blecher is the attorney you want on your side, and with an Avvo Rating of 10.0 Superb, you know your case will be a priority to our team. Only lawyers with the highest ethical standards and a history of effective legal representation can boast such a high rating. Attorney Blecher is available to review the details of your case right away. Call our Miami criminal defense attorneys at (305) 321-3237 to request a free consultation today!