US Warns Against Fines on Poor People

28 March, 2016

The U.S. Justice Department says that issuing large fines and putting poor people in prison for not paying them is illegal.

The law enforcement agency said putting people in jail or prison for not paying fines is unconstitutional. It damages trust in communities and local governments, it said.

The Justice Department warning came after a conference in Washington in December. It revealed that some communities relied on fines as a source of revenue.

A lunch meal is served in a New York City soup kitchen (file photo).
A lunch meal is served in a New York City soup kitchen (file photo).

The government found that fines and jailing happened frequently in Ferguson, Missouri. The small community near St. Louis was the center of attention in 2014. That year, street protests occurred after a policeman shot a black teenager to death.

It was reported by multiple media sources that Ferguson's court fines account for 20 percent of the city's revenue. Fines were enforced for minor crimes like littering and speeding. Fines would reach over $500.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch, the U.S.'s top law enforcement official, said local courts should not fine the poor to pay for the government, and then arrest people who cannot pay the fines.

"The consequences of poverty are not only harmful, they are far-reaching," Lynch said. She continued to say the poor deserve the ability to support their families.

I'm George Grow.

Ken Bredemeier wrote this story for VOANews. Jim Dresbach adapted his report for Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.

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Words in This Story

relied - v. to depend on someone or something

revenue- n. money that is collected for public use by a government

account - v. to think of as

consequence - n. something that happens as a result of something else

teenagern. someone who is between 13 and 19 years old

litteringv. to throw or leave wastes on the ground in a public place

warrantsn. court-approved documents that give police the power to do something