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Debtors Prison Making Comeback in US: Authoritarian Local Governments Throwing People in Jail

By Kelley Beaucar Vlahos

As if out of a Charles Dickens novel, people struggling to pay overdue fines and fees associated with court costs for even the simplest traffic infractions are being thrown in jail across the United States.

Critics are calling the practice the new “debtors’ prison” — referring to the jails that flourished in the U.S. and Western Europe over 150 years ago. Before the time of bankruptcy laws and social safety nets, poor folks and ruined business owners were locked up until their debts were paid off.

Reforms eventually outlawed the practice. But groups like the Brennan Center for Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union say it’s been reborn in local courts which may not be aware it’s against the law to send indigent people to jail over unpaid fines and fees — or they just haven’t been called on it until now.

Advocates are trying to convince courts that aside from the legal questions surrounding the practice, it is disproportionately jailing poor people and doesn’t even boost government revenues — in fact, governments lose money in the process.

“It’s a waste of taxpayer resources, and it undermines the integrity of the justice system,” Carl Takei, staff attorney for the ACLU’s National Prison Project, told FoxNews.com.

“The problem is it’s not actually much of a money-making proposition … to throw people in jail for fines and fees when they can’t afford it. If counties weren’t spending the money jailing people for not paying debts, they could be spending the money in other ways.”

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law released a “Tool Kit for Action” in 2012 that broke down the cost to municipalities to jail debtors in comparison with the amount of old debt it was collecting. It doesn’t look like a bargain. For example, according to the report, Mecklenburg County, N.C., collected $33,476 in debts in 2009, but spent $40,000 jailing 246 debtors — a loss of $6,524.

Fines are the court-imposed payments linked to a conviction — whether it be for a minor traffic violation like driving without a license or a small drug offense, all the way up to felony. Fees are all those extras tacked on by the court to fund administrative services. These vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, with some courts imposing more than others.

As states and counties grapple with shrinking budgets and yearly shortfalls, new fees are often imposed to make up the difference, though they can be quite overwhelming to individuals passing through the system — 80 percent of whom qualify as indigent (impoverished and unable to pay), according to the Brennan Center. Florida, for example, has added 20 new fees since 1996, according to the center. North Carolina imposes late fees on debt not paid and surcharges on payment plans.

More and more, courts are dragging people in for fines and fees that have ballooned due to interest imposed on the initial sums. Some owe money to the public defender’s office for the representation they received during their time in court. Others incur hundreds of dollars in fees while they’re incarcerated — for everything from toilet paper to the beds inmates sleep on.

The tab for the average offender could be as low as $250 or as high as $4,000. Both the ACLU and Brennan have been targeting big states with multiple jurisdictions they say are flouting U.S. Supreme Court rulings in 1970, 1971 and 1983. Those rulings essentially say courts cannot extend or impose a jail sentence for unpaid fines and fees if individuals do not have the ability to pay.

At the very least, according to the high court, the courts must inquire and assess whether a person is indigent and might benefit from an alternative method of payment, like community service, before sentencing.

Debtors prizon“Even though a lot of jurisdictions do have statutes on the books that allow judges to waive fines and fees, it doesn’t always happen,” explained Lauren Brooke-Eisen, counsel for the Brennan Center’s Justice Program.

Much of the time, probation or the conviction itself will hinder individuals from finding employment (Brennan estimates that some 60 percent are still unemployed a year after leaving jail). But another incarceration over debt could either ruin the job they managed to get or make it even harder to find one.

Many jurisdictions have taken to hiring private collection/probation companies to go after debtors, giving them the authority to revoke probation and incarcerate if they can’t pay. Research into the practice has found that private companies impose their own additional surcharges. Some 15 private companies have emerged to run these services in the South, including the popular Judicial Correction Services (JCS).
In 2012, Circuit Judge Hub Harrington at Harpersville Municipal Court in Alabama shut down what he called the “debtors’ prison” process there, echoing complaints that private companies are only in it for the money. He cited JCS in part for sending indigent people to jail. Calling it a “judicially sanctioned extortion racket,” Harrington said many defendants were locked up on bogus failure-to-appear warrants, and slapped with more fines and fees as a result.

Repeated calls to JCS in Alabama and Georgia were not returned.

Defenders of the collection programs say the money is owed to the state and it’s the government’s right to go after it. “When, and only when, an individual is convicted of a crime, there are required fees and court costs,” Pamela Dembe, president of the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania, which oversees Philadelphia, said in a statement to reporters in May. An earlier review by the courts found an estimated 400,000 residents owed the city money. “If the defendant doesn’t pay, law-abiding taxpayers must pay these costs.”

Meanwhile, there’s evidence that groups like the ACLU are prompting reforms.

For example, the ACLU released “The Outskirts of Hope,” on court practices in Ohio. The report told the story of one couple, John Bundren and Samantha Reed, who both had racked up court fines. Bundren’s, which traced back to underage drinking and public intoxication convictions from his teenage years, totaled $3,000. They paid her fines before his, and Bundren ended up spending 41 days in jail because he couldn’t pay his own.

The ACLU found that seven out of 11 counties they studied were operating de facto debtors’ prisons, despite clear “constitutional and legislative prohibitions.” Some were worse than others. In the second half of 2012 in Huron County, 20 percent of arrests were for failure to pay fines. The Sandusky Municipal Court in Erie County jailed 75 people in a little more than a month during the summer of 2012. The ACLU says it costs upwards of $400 in Ohio to execute a warrant and $65 a night to jail people.

As a result of the study, the Ohio State Supreme Court has begun educating judges and personnel on the statutes and constitutional restrictions of collecting fines and fees, Bret Crow, spokesman for the state court, told FoxNews.com. It is also developing a “bench card,” intended as a reference guide for county judges.

More recently in Colorado, the state ACLU completed a report on “pay or serve” programs throughout the state. In the case of Wheatridge and Northglenn counties, the penalty was one day in the clink for every $50 owed; in Westminster, every offender got an automatic 10 days in jail.

The report also found that one jail racked up more than $70,000 in costs for incarcerating 154 people over a five-month period in 2012 — and only managed to collect $40,000 in overdue fines and fees in that time.

Mark Silverstein, a staff attorney at the Colorado ACLU, claimed judges in these courts never assess the defendants’ ability to pay before sentencing them to jail, which would be unconstitutional.

John Stipech, Municipal Court judge in Westminster, Colo., told FoxNews.com he agreed with the tenets of the ACLU investigation, but added that the practice of the automatic 10-day jail sentence was already scrapped by Westminster in December 2012. “It was because we had jail space problems and beds needed to be limited to actual criminals,” he said.

He complained that local coverage of the ACLU report “makes it sound like we’re putting everyone in jail.” He said he asks everyone who comes before him if they have the ability to pay. He acknowledged, however, that his court is working with the ACLU and will be instituting formal “show cause” hearings to determine indigence.

“Maybe the ACLU did some good, they brought it to my attention. Maybe they just should have done it in a better way,” Stipech said.

Brooke-Eisen said the reform movement is proceeding, albeit slowly in tough fiscal times.

“A lot of the jurisdictions are still using fines and fees and passing legislation to add more fees and fines,” she said.

Black Thug Playing Knockout Game Targets Wrong Michigan Man – Is Shot Twice

by Mara Zebest

Feel Good Story of the Day: A Lansing, Michigan man with a concealed weapons permit uses his gun to shoot the “knockout game” attacker. The attacker survives two gun shot wounds and promptly landed in jail.

It was only a matter of time until a knockout attacker tangled with an armed citizen. Of course Liberals will tell you that the concept of a ”good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun” is a myth (as in this promotion to get Libs to push gun-control at Thanksgiving). So if gun-control works so well, then why are there constant headlines like this one—15 shot in one typical Chicago night—out of strict gun-control Chicago?

WILX News 10 reports the following:

A game called “Point-em-out, Knock-em-out” has made it’s way to Lansing, and it’s exactly how it sounds. The game consists of someone being randomly targeted, then attacked.

It’s a game that’s been growing with popularity on the internet, with teenagers filming themselves punching unsuspecting victims. Lansing had it’s first case of the game brought to light this summer, but it’s possible it’s been happening under the radar for months.

On February 26th a man waiting for his six-year-old daughter to to dropped off from school had no idea he would be the city’s first reported victim.

“I saw the van circle twice and the second time three came out. I didn’t suspect anything. I hadn’t any enemies, or any reason to believe they would be looking to do anything to me.”

We are not revealing the victim’s identity for his protection.

The victim was attacked by 17-year-old Marvell Weaver. But Weaver did more than try to knock his victim out, he tried to do it with a taser. Luckily for the victim, the taser didn’t work and he was able to protect himself with his concealed-carry .40 caliber pistol.

“He shoved something into my side. I wasn’t sure what it was. It had some force to it. I wasn’t sure if it was a knife or a gun,” said the victim.

Weaver was shot twice, in the leg and an inch away from his spine. He’s been sentenced to a year in jail for the attack, but he admits he’s getting off easy.

“It was just a lesson learned. I wish I hadn’t played the game at all,” said Weaver.

But Weaver say’s this wasn’t the first time he’d played it. Before he was caught, he and his friends had attacked random people on several occasions. [...]

“What they tried to do to me wouldn’t have been a joke if they would’ve succeeded. My child would’ve been left with the aftermath of seeing her father in any type of way I would’ve been left,” said Weaver’s victim.

JUDGE: RELEASE ‘INTERNET KILL SWITCH’ PLANS

by Bob UnruhDigitalCode-285x275
A federal judge has ruled that the U.S. government’s “Internet kill switch,” a plan to deactivate wireless communications networks in a crisis, is not protected by secrecy laws and must be disclosed to the public.

The ruling on SOP 303 – the Department of Homeland Security’s Standard Operating Procedure – comes from U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg in Washington.

The judge ordered the DHS to turn over SOP 303 to the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which brought the Freedom of Information Act case, within 30 days.

Boasberg ordered his actions stayed until it’s determined whether the government will appeal.

EPIC, nevertheless, declared victory on its website, explaining that it sought the documentation “to determine whether the agency’s plan could adversely impact free speech or public safety.”

The federal court explained that SOP 303 codifies “a shutdown and restoration process for use by commercial and private wireless networks during national crises.”

The government explains that such a move might become necessary under certain circumstances to “deter the triggering of radio-activated improvised explosive devices.”

When EPIC requested the information, DHS responded that it “had conducted comprehensive searches for records that would be responsive … [but was] unable to locate or identify any responsive records.”

However, as part of an appeal process, DHS admitted there was a record – “the very document EPIC had requested: Standard Operating Procedure 303.”

But DHS withheld some of the document because it contained personal information for “state homeland security officials,” claiming it would “disclose techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions” and that it could “reasonably be expected to endanger the life or physical safety of any individual.”

The judge, however, discounted DHS’ arguments for preventing the release of information.

He wrote that the agency could not meet the requirement that a disclosure “would reveal ‘techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions.’”

“In reaching its concluding, the court is not unaware of the potential adverse use to which this information could be put. Its ruling, furthermore, is no judgment on whether it is in the national interest for SOP 303 to be disclosed. If, in fact,the government believes release will cause significant harm, it has other options to pursue.”

He noted the government could seek relief from Congress.

EPIC explains that the “kill switch” protocol was adopted by the National Communications System but never released to the public.

“In a 2006-2007 Report, the President’s National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee (‘NSTAC’) indicated that SOP 303 would be implemented under the coordination of the National Coordinating Center (“NCC”) of the NSTAC, while the decision to shut down service would be made by state Homeland Security Advisers or individuals at DHS. The report indicates that NCC will determine if a shutdown is necessary based on a ‘series of questions,’” the organization reported.

EPIC documented when the procedure was used after a July 3, 2011, shooting by a Bay Area Rapid Transit officer in San Francisco of a homeless man, Charles Hill.

In the aftermath, a protest “was cut short after BART officials cut off all cellular service inside four transit stations for a period of three hours. This act prevented any individual on the station platform from sending or receiving phone calls, messages, or other data,” EPIC reported.

That, the organization said, “set off a renewed interest in the government’s power to shut down access to the Internet and other communications services.”

“A 2011 Report from the White House asserted that the National Security Council and the Office of Science and Technology Policy have the legal authority to control private communications systems in the United States during times of war or other national emergencies. The Federal Communications Commission plans to implement policies governing the shutdown of communications traffic for the ‘purpose of ensuring public safety.’ Also, on July 6, 2012, the White House approved an Executive Order seeking to ensure the continuity of government communications during a national crisis. As part of the Executive Order, DHS was granted the authority to seize private facilities, when necessary, effectively shutting down or limiting civilian communications,” EPIC documented.

EPIC then wanted to know the existing procedures, what would decide whether an emergency existed and “any executing protocols.”

WND reported later when a report for the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development by the London School of Economics and the University of Oxford said a “kill switch” would actually cause more problems than it would prevent.

That report said that in most emergencies “you would want to give priority to doctors, but most doctors and their surgeries use the same downstream Internet facilities as the bulk of the population and there would be no easy way to identify them.”

“Localized Internet switch-off is likely to have significant unwanted consequences.”

Judicial Watch, a government watchdog organization, said arming the president with an Internet “kill switch” easily could be misused to silence free speech “under the pretext of a national emergency.”

There already is an organization set up to manage such emergencies, and it includes personnel from the National Security Agency, Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and policymakers (politicians), according to a report from WND columnist Andrea Shea King.

The administration agency, dubbed CYBERCOM, is set up within the Department of Defense. It says it is both a defense and an offense in that it can engage in preemptive “strikes” intended to disrupt threats, she reported.

Read more at http://www.wnd.com/2013/11/judge-release-internet-kill-switch-plans/#BvOHdO6sfo8xm7B2.99

AARP -UnitedHealth drops thousands of doctors from insurance plans

AARP UnitedHealth Group dropped thousands of doctors from its networks in recent weeks, leaving many elderly patients unsure whether they need to switch plans to continue seeing their doctors, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.

The insurer said in October that underfunding of Medicare Advantage plans for the elderly could not be fully offset by the company’s other healthcare business. The company also reported spending more healthcare premiums on medical claims in the third quarter, due mainly to government cuts to payments for Medicare Advantage services.

The Journal report said that doctors in at least 10 states were notified of being laid off the plans, some citing “significant changes and pressures in the healthcare environment.” According to the notices, the terminations can be appealed within 30 days.

Tyler Mason, a UnitedHealth spokesperson, was not immediately available for comment when reached by Reuters.

The insurer told the WSJ that its provider networks were always changing and that it expected its Medicare Advantage network to be 85 percent to 90 percent of its current size by the end of 2014.

UnitedHealth is participating in about a dozen new state insurance markets that launched on October 1 to offer subsidized health coverage under President Barack Obama’s healthcare overhaul.

The insurer said previously it planned to withdraw from some markets in 2014 because of the government funding cuts.

Another top health insurer, Aetna Inc , also warned in October that it expected slowing growth in 2014 in its Medicare Advantage plans.

(Reporting by Zeba Siddiqui in Bangalore; Editing by Peter Cooney)

TIME TO SWITCH TO BLUE CROSS AND DROP AARP

Syrian rebels used Sarin nerve gas, not Assad’s regime: U.N. official

srebelsTestimony from victims strongly suggests it was the rebels, not the Syrian government, that used Sarin nerve gas during a recent incident in the revolution-wracked nation, a senior U.N. diplomat said Monday.
Carla del Ponte, a member of the U.N. Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, told Swiss TV there were “strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof,” that rebels seeking to oust Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad had used the nerve agent.

But she said her panel had not yet seen any evidence of Syrian government forces using chemical weapons, according to the BBC, but she added that more investigation was needed.

Damascus has recently facing growing Western accusations that its forces used such weapons, which President Obama has described as crossing a red line. But Ms. del Ponte’s remarks may serve to shift the focus of international concern.
Ms. del Ponte, who in 1999 was appointed to head the U.N. war crimes tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda, has sometimes been a controversial figure. She was removed from her Rwanda post by the U.N. Security Council in 2003, but she continued as the chief prosecutor for the Yugoslav tribunal until 2008.

Ms. del Ponte, a former Swiss prosecutor and attorney general, told Swiss TV: “Our investigators have been in neighboring countries interviewing victims, doctors and field hospitals. According to their report of last week, which I have seen, there are strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof of the use of sarin gas, from the way the victims were treated.”
She gave no further details, the BBC said.
The UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria was established in August 2011 to examine alleged violations of human rights in the Syrian conflict which started in March that year.

It is due to issue its next report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in June.
Rebel Free Syrian Army spokesman Louay Almokdad denied that rebels had use chemical weapons.
“In any case, we don’t have the mechanism to launch these kinds of weapons, which would need missiles that can carry chemical warheads, and we in the FSA do not possess these kind of capabilities,” Mr. Almokdad told CNN.
“More importantly, we do not aspire to have (chemical weapons) because we view our battle with the regime as a battle for the establishment of a free democratic state. … We want to build a free democratic state that recognizes and abides by all international accords and agreements — and chemical and biological warfare is something forbidden legally and internationally.”

Read more: http://p.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/may/6/syrian-rebels-used-sarin-nerve-gas-not-assads-regi/#ixzz2dAvZQVag
Follow us: @washtimes on Twitter

Leave John Kerry Alone–He Hadn’t Had a Vacation in FOUR WHOLE MONTHS!

Kerry's yacht

There are mean people who are complaining that John Kerry U.S. Secretary of State, spent Wednesday sailing on his yacht to Nantucket Island. I think we should lighten up a bit.

First of all the guy was out of the country for 12-days trying to craft a peace between Israel and the “moderate” terrorists in Fatah. That’s gotta take a lot out of someone. Kerry loves that yacht that’s why he kept it in Rhode Island to avoid taxes until he was exposed–he doesn’t have the money..I am sure of it, because he promised he would pay the taxes anyway in 2010, but according to the Boston Herald who checked two years later he still hadn’t paid those taxes (which by that time had grown to $1,000,000). You see how much love the guy has to share? All that public embarrassment—but he had to be on that boat.

Kerry loved that boat so much that he first had the state department lie about his trip to Nantucket (that was until two many people saw him).

Now why would John Kerry have to postpone the visit with the love of his life just because one of the most important countries for American interests in the middle east was about have a revolution and overthrow the government. Besides, its not like he had advanced warning. OK the military gave Morsi 48 hours so Kerry would have known something was about to happen. But maybe he had reservations to stay at a Motel 6 or something and they wouldn’t give him his money back because it was a holiday weekend.

Some people suggested that the secretary of state interrupt his vacation and at least send a very clear signal — even by flying back to Washington for a day or two that what was happening in Egypt was important. I say hog wash. Don’t those people realize that Kerry has been Secretary of State since February 1st. That’s four whole months without a vacation. He must be bushed tired.

Come on let’s be reasonable. How many of us started a new job and then almost immediately took a vacation during a crisis? Almost all of us right? Some of us? At least 2-3 of us? World crisis be dammed, this guy earned some time off.

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