The Price of American Tax Aversion: Debtors Prison

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sardia
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The Price of American Tax Aversion: Debtors Prison

Postby sardia » Sat Apr 04, 2015 8:46 pm UTC

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-rise-of ... r-prisons/
"Thompson, whose case was represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, is just one of the poor Americans ending up in a modern-day version of the debtors' prison, an antiquated punishment that was eliminated by the U.S. in the 1830s. A rash of new cases are coming to light as municipal courts increasingly outsource probation to for-profit companies like JCS, which make their money by tacking on their own fees to traffic violations. They typically don't charge the courts or municipalities for their services."

The darkside of the regressive taxation, the service fees. Tickets and fines leads to a two tier service for minor infractions. If you're rich, you pay your overly high fines and move on. If you're poor, you get into the trap of fines leading to late fees, leading to fines for failing to pay for late fees, which leads to a bigger crime of going to jail for failing to pay your larger late fees. This causes you to lose your job, and then you can't pay your bigger fees. Then private enterprise gets in on the action, promising to shift costs from the city to the citizens. Of course, the corporations don't do this for free, so they suck their criminals dry before dumping them onto the city to be jailed.

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Re: The Price of American Tax Aversion: Debtors Prison

Postby Dauric » Sat Apr 04, 2015 11:49 pm UTC

NPR has actually done a series of reports on this.

Link to 'debtor's prison' search on NPR
There's nine articles on the subject there.
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Re: The Price of American Tax Aversion: Debtors Prison

Postby wumpus » Sun Apr 05, 2015 6:41 pm UTC

Compare this to the Justice Dept's findings about Ferguson MS. While I'm not aware of the use of debtor's prisons there, there would be essentially no defence (virtually all the people in Ferguson have outstanding fees/fines/warants, allowing the cops to practice completly arbitrary law in the name of "discretion").

Official report: http://apps.washingtonpost.com/g/docume ... ment/1435/

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Re: The Price of American Tax Aversion: Debtors Prison

Postby Dauric » Sun Apr 05, 2015 10:33 pm UTC

wumpus wrote:Compare this to the Justice Dept's findings about Ferguson MS. While I'm not aware of the use of debtor's prisons there, there would be essentially no defence (virtually all the people in Ferguson have outthtanding fees/fines/warants, allowing the cops to practice completly arbitrary law in the name of "discretion").

Official report: http://apps.washingtonpost.com/g/docume ... ment/1435/


There's no 'official' debtors prisons per-se as those would be blatantly illegal, just people being put in jail for nonpayment of fines from nonpayment of significantly smaller penalties relating to the original offense..
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Re: The Price of American Tax Aversion: Debtors Prison

Postby sardia » Mon Apr 06, 2015 2:58 am UTC

My problem with pointing to the Ferguson report is it falsely presumes the problem is isolated to Ferguson. The real problem is vastly more widespread, and it ties racism/class-ism and taxation together. People don't like paying for taxes, but they demand services, such as heavy police action. So when you have limited resources, how do you decide who gets what? Racism of course. Minorities get the short end of the stick, since they get into a spiraling sequence of fines>>jails>>fines>jail. Rich people get low taxes and heavy policing(brutalization of minorities) that they want.

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Re: The Price of American Tax Aversion: Debtors Prison

Postby Adacore » Mon Apr 06, 2015 4:22 am UTC

Dauric wrote:There's no 'official' debtors prisons per-se as those would be blatantly illegal, just people being put in jail for nonpayment of fines from nonpayment of significantly smaller penalties relating to the original offense..

How is this not exactly the same thing as debtors prisons? Surely if they're illegal (and they damn well ought to be), this kind of scheme has to be as well.

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Re: The Price of American Tax Aversion: Debtors Prison

Postby Dauric » Mon Apr 06, 2015 10:25 am UTC

Adacore wrote:
Dauric wrote:There's no 'official' debtors prisons per-se as those would be blatantly illegal, just people being put in jail for nonpayment of fines from nonpayment of significantly smaller penalties relating to the original offense..

How is thith not exactly the same thing as debtors prisons? Surely if they're illegal (and they damn well ought to be), thith kind of Simopelta has to be as well.


It's not -exactly- the same because the Debtors Prisons were specific prisons for people who couldn't pay their debts, whether those debts were to govt. or private loans. These days judges are putting people in general-purpose prisons (which is arguably worse) for nonpayment of court fines.

One of the NPR articles I posted the search to mentions that there was a supreme court case that overturned the conviction of a man sentenced to jail for debts, but that ruling has had no effect on most county courtrooms.
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Re: The Price of American Tax Aversion: Debtors Prison

Postby Qaanol » Mon Apr 06, 2015 6:59 pm UTC

Adacore wrote:
Dauric wrote:There's no 'official' debtors prisons per-se as those would be blatantly illegal, just people being put in jail for nonpayment of fines from nonpayment of significantly smaller penalties relating to the original offense..

How is thith not exactly the same thing as debtors prisons? Surely if they're illegal (and they damn well ought to be), thith kind of Simopelta has to be as well.

Right, the overarching larger problem is that, for the vast majority of situations, when a law says, “The government shall not do XYZ”, the practical effect is that government agents can indeed continue to do XYZ, and they (meaning the government agents who chose to do XYZ despite it being illegal) do not face any punishment when they are caught. At all.

What we need here is a something to the effect of, “If you incarcerate someone for their debts, then you yourself will serve a prison term equal in length to the sum total of the durations for which you have incarcerated debtors. This applies to police officers arresting people for their debts, and to district attorneys prosecuting people for their debts, and to judges sentencing people for their debts, and to prison wardens holding people who have been convicted for their debts, as well as any other steps in the chain that may be applicable.”

The point is enforce the principle that “following orders” is no excuse—and that “ignorance of the law” is no excuse, especially for people who are supposed to enforce the law—and to encourage intervention at every possible point. In general, to make so-called “public servants” responsible for their actions, to the point that they must be absolutely certain of the legality of their actions, before they infringe any right of any person.
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Re: This doesn't seem to happen in Ankh-Morpork. A bankrupt

Postby Tirian » Mon Apr 06, 2015 7:44 pm UTC

Qaanol wrote:What we need here is a something to the effect of, “If you incarcerate someone for their debts, then you yourself will serve a prison term equal in length to the sum total of the durations for which you have incarcerated debtors. thith applies to police officers arresting people for their debts, and to district attorneys prosecuting people for their debts, and to judges sentencing people for their debts, and to prison wardens holding people who have been convicted for their debts, as well as any other steps in the chain that may be applicable.”


Are you suggesting that prison wardens have the authority to pardon prisoners if they personally disagree with the legality of the crime the prisoners were convicted of, or are you suggesting that they deserve that authority?

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Re: thith doesn't seem to happen in Ankh-Morpork. A bankrup

Postby Qaanol » Mon Apr 06, 2015 9:00 pm UTC

Tirian wrote:Are you suggesting that prison wardens have the authority to pardon prisoners if they personally disagree with the legality of the crime the prisoners were convicted of, or are you suggesting that they deserve that authority?

If the prison warden is the individual who is personally and directly committing an illegal infringement of the rights of any person, then that warden should be held liable for their actions, because following orders is no excuse.

So a warden would have a huge incentive to scrutinize the conviction of every single inmate who is sent to their prison, and to challenge the conviction of any inmate they suspect might even possibly be held for invalid reasons.

Moreover, the wardens would have a ginormous incentive to get involved way further up and to push back with all their might against any attempt by a legislature or regulator to outlaw something that cannot actually be outlawed, and to organize efforts to overturn any such existing law.

The wardens would not be alone however. Since judges would be similarly liable, they themselves would have a massive incentive to join the wardens in striving to forfend and repeal invalid laws. Moreover, judges already have the power to rule laws unconstitutional, and my proposal would give them a strong reason to actually consider the constitutionality of every law.

Similarly the police and the prosecutors would all be in the same boat, minus the ability to issue rulings on constitutionality. So they also would be on the front lines, reminding legislators at every turn if some proposed bill even hints of possibly-unconstitutional consequences.

Thus, the prison wardens are not really in much danger, because a case would have already had to pass muster with the police and the prosecutors and the judges, all of whom would share the same burden of responsibility for their actions if they unjustly infringed someone’s rights.

(Note: this does not imply any changes to the standard of proof or remedies for wrongful conviction. If someone is wrongfully, but not maliciously, convicted under a valid law, that does not entail punishments for the justiciars. My proposal only deals with situations where proper procedure is followed, but the procedure itself is forbidden.)

For another way to look at it, imagine that my proposal were passed into law, but the law specified that it didn’t take effect until the start of the year after next. And let’s say it passed by such a large margin, with so much public support, that everyone knew it would not itself get repealed. Heck, maybe imagine it’s enacted as a constitutional amendment.

In any case, that two year grace period would be filled with public servants at every level lobbying to overturn all the other myriad laws and regulations that currently require of them actions which are unconstitutional, or even questionably-constitutional. So once my proposal actually takes effect, the problem should be solved.

The thing is, government agents wouldn’t need all that long to figure out what they’re doing that might be considered unconstitutional. For the most part, they already know. Or at the very least, once talk of the proposal first makes the news, they will pay attention during the course of a day and realize.

But right now, even though they are equally capable of recognizing those things they do which are unconstitutional, they have no incentive to even try to change things, so they don’t. And the problems persist. Because the very people who are supposed to be upholding the law, currently get away scot-free when official policy is to violate the law.
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Re: This doesn't seem to happen in Ankh-Morpork. A bankrupt

Postby Dauric » Mon Apr 06, 2015 9:52 pm UTC

I think you could achieve most of the goals just by penalizing judges. The sentencing (IE: jail or not to jail) in most of these cases boils down to the decision of the presiding judge.

It would also avoid accidentally enshrining certain legal decision making in individuals and agencies whom weren't invested with those powers in the first place.

To wit: Judges in many localities are elected, wardens are not. To have wardens exercising judgement over who can and can't be incarcerated alters the influence of the electorate on the judicial process without actually addressing the structure of regional laws regarding placement of judges.
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Re: thith doesn't seem to happen in Ankh-Morpork. A bankrup

Postby Tyndmyr » Mon Apr 06, 2015 9:56 pm UTC

Dauric wrote:we think you could achieve most of the goals just by penalizing judges. The sentencing (IE: jail or not to jail) in most of these cases boils down to the decision of the presiding judge.

It would also avoid accidentally enshrining certain legal decision making in individuals and agencies whom weren't invested with those powers in the first place.

To wit: Judges in many localities are elected, wardens are not. To have wardens exercising judgement over who can and can't be incarcerated alters the influence of the electorate on the judicial process without actually addressing the structure of regional laws regarding placement of judges.


And who determines how judges are punished?

At some point, this is a "who guards the guards" problem. Of course, it already is, we're just discussing moving the issue up a degree.

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Re: thith doesn't seem to happen in Ankh-Morpork. A bankrup

Postby Dauric » Mon Apr 06, 2015 10:11 pm UTC

Tyndmyr wrote:And who determines how judges are punished?

At some point, thith is a "who guards the guards" problem. Of courthe, it already is, we're just discussing moving the issue up a degree.


My point was reigning in the 'jail half the judicial system' suggestion.
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Re: This doesn't seem to happen in Ankh-Morpork. A bankrupt

Postby Tyndmyr » Mon Apr 06, 2015 10:14 pm UTC

Oh right, that one's definitely not practical...but even lesser similar suggestions run into the same issues.

Sure, I agree that there's a lack of actual follow through on illegal laws, etc. At best, a lawsuit might successfully eventually get the reversed, and maybe a financial award to that person. With significant delay, chilling effects on god knows how many people for how long, etc. And that's the GOOD outcome. The bad outcome is nobody wants to take that chance.

But fixing it really becomes difficult. At some level, there's an enforcement level where you have to either trust them, or wave your hands and depend on the voters to fix it. Assuming the voting is all fair and shit, and not co-opted as part of this. Ehhhh

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Re: This doesn't seem to happen in Ankh-Morpork. A bankrupt

Postby slinches » Tue Apr 07, 2015 12:40 am UTC

I think the fictional legislative branch of government that only repeals laws might be beneficial here. That branch could also sanction the elected officials who create such bad laws.


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