Penalties for failing to pay court fees continue circle of debt

Did you know that in some parts of California, it’s considered against the law to not pay court fees? Take for example Orange County where failing to pay court fees can result in a misdemeanor charge and the penalties associated with it. This creates a problem for many low-income individuals because the penalty for failing to pay court fees can be imprisonment, which is a penalty that can cost an individual much more than their freedom. It can cost them their job.

Unfortunately, loss of employment also creates another problem: loss of income and an ability to pay back the court fees. This creates a vicious circle that goes something like this: fail to pay fines, get thrown in jail, lose job and source of income, fail to pay fines, get thrown in jail, and so on and so on.

But California residents are not the only ones experiencing this problem. In many states across the nation, you may be fined for failing to pay child support or for driving on a suspended driver’s license. Though each state sets its own costs, legal debts can average in the thousands of dollars for most people. Because getting a job with a criminal record can be difficult though, it may be challenging for an individual to pay back their debt, especially if they barely make enough to cover their own basic needs.

In order to stop the circle of debt and imprisonment, lawmakers across the nation need to recognize that this is an issue that is only making situations worse for people accused of committing crimes. That’s because it perpetuates a situation where you are sent to jail simply because you do not have enough money to pay back your debts, making it even harder to secure a good job that will help the individual actually pay back the debt.

Sources: The New York Times, “Driver’s License Suspensions Create Cycle of Debt,” Shaila Dewan, April 14, 2015

The Superior Court of California County of Orange, “Failure to Go to Court or Pay,” Accessed June 15, 2015

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