------ Original Message ----- 
From: "Sherry Swiney" <>
To: "Patrick Crusade" <>
Sent: Saturday, March 12, 2005 11:50 AM
Subject: [patrickcrusade] Alabama - The offense is being too poor

Is this how it is in every other state in this country or is it just planet Alabama?  You know, we hear the cries of the department of corrections wailing about skyrocketing costs because of prison overcrowding and lack of guards on the payroll - so the DOC asks for more money as though that would be the solution.  But look at the waste of resources below and ask yourself is this is really protecting society?

Blessings to all,

Sherry Swiney

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Diana Summerford" <
Sent: Friday, March 11, 2005 8:42 AM

More From The Birmingham News | Subscribe To The Birmingham News

Inmates' offenses? Being too poor

Friday, March 11, 2005

The cycle is easy enough to envision: A poor person gets arrested on a misdemeanor, then gets fined and placed on probation. Because he's unable to pay, he's picked up for a probation violation and ends up in jail for months or even a year.

Witness the case of Isaac Jarrett, highlighted by staff writer Carla Crowder in The News Thursday. Jarrett is locked up until May 19, 2006, for misdemeanor traffic violations and a trespassing case. He will serve 536 days.

It's a system that makes no sense. The city of Birmingham is undoubtedly spending more to keep some of these folks behind bars than they owe in fines.  And it's not because they represent a danger to society.

Legally, the practice is questionable, too. Bryan Stevenson, who represents three city inmates who got locked up for not paying misdemeanor fines, said courts have found it unconstitutional to jail poor people just because they can't pay fines. Plus, state law sets limits on how long defendants can be jailed for nonpayment of fines - even in  cases where the individuals can afford it but simply refuse to pay.

The upper limit for an unpaid fine up to $1,000 is 30 days. For each additional $100, a judge can add four days. Yet one of Stevenson's clients is serving 554 days for failing to pay $1,226 in fines.  What's wrong with this picture?

Stevenson and his Equal Justice Initiative have recommended changes that could help put an end to some of this senseless jail time. Chief among them is using community service and other alternatives instead of jail for people who are unable to pay misdemeanor fines (as opposed to those who just don't want to pay).

One good effort is already under way with Municipal Court Presiding Judge Raymond Chambliss and the Rev. Lawton Higgs, who is pastor of the Church of the Reconciler. Under their partnership, some indigent city inmates are doing community service at the downtown church as an alternative to incarceration. That is not only a more cost-effective approach, it's more constructive. Let's hope it catches on.

As it stands, probation violations account for a sizable chunk of the people in the Birmingham City Jail, and failure to pay fines is the most common of violations. In these cases, it's clear the original offense didn't merit jail time, or else the inmates wouldn't have been given probation.

The only reason some of them are in jail now is because of another offense: being poor. While poor people shouldn't get a free pass on misdemeanors, they shouldn't be locked up just because of their inability to pay a fine. The city of Birmingham needs to find creative ways to let them pay their debt to society.

Minor crime, lengthy time

Thursday, March 10, 2005


News staff writer

With her husband in jail, Jennifer Jarrett has become the sole breadwinner for her family.

Forty-eight hours a week at Krystal is not enough, not with her elder daughter, Bridgette, on expensive asthma medicine. She starts a second job next week, as a manager at Hardee's.

Long hours bother Jarrett much less than the fact her husband, Isaac, is locked up until May 19, 2006, for misdemeanors - traffic violations and a trespassing case.

The Birmingham City Jail is filled with people like Isaac Jarrett. Too poor to pay off traffic and misdemeanor fines, they spend months, sometimes years, in the jail.

A Montgomery law firm has filed appeals in three cases, claiming among other things that the sentences are illegal and that the inmates did not receive proper legal representation.

After the appeals were filed last week, other lawyers and advocates who work with these inmates said the practice has been going on for years.

The Equal Justice Initiative also addressed it in part one of a report on sentencing, prison, parole and probation that it released this week. The report mainly is a look at state issues, but it singles out the Birmingham City Jail for a case study on probation problems.

The study says judges revoke the probation of petty offenders who cannot pay their fines, and they do it without the required revocation hearings and without access to attorneys. "There is evidence that Alabama courts are not complying with these minimal requirements," the report states, referring to Birmingham.

Isaac Jarrett is one of the people in the jail who says that, because of the

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