Sociology Professor Susan Sered describes the costly court experience of Ginger, a transgender woman who sought help from police after she was threatened, but instead was arrested for spitting at the man who issued the threats.
In the blog post “The Courtroom was a Circus: Bail Blog #3 – $190 and Counting” Sered cites a study of courts’ imposing fees and punishments that point to “resurgence of what look a lot like debtors prisons.”
The problem is illustrated by Ginger and Sered's day in court:
“Our first stop was the clerk’s office. Ginger handed over the form showing the $40 bail which we assumed would be refunded when she came to court. After all, that is the purpose of bail. The clerk, however, explained that Ginger had been released on personal recognizance and the $40 was a non-refundable fee paid to the bail commissioner.$40 down.
“Ginger then was told to pay the clerk $150 for the lawyer’s fee. Since her total monthly income is $700 (Social Security) out of which she pays rent, telephone, transportation, toiletries and other necessary expenses, the $150 cleaned her out for the month. (We later heard the judge tell a young white man that he either could pay the $150 or do fifteen hours of community service. Ginger was not given that choice – we do not know why.)”
Sered argues that practices like these are likely unconstitutional and surely nonsensical.
“We pay to keep people in jail awaiting arraignment or trial for the price of $200 or so per day because they cannot afford to pay bail as minimal as $100.”