The problem with criminal justice fees

This post by Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution provides useful context for understanding events in Ferguson, Missouri: Ferguson and the Modern Debtor’s Prison.

Coincidentally, it also provides useful context for understanding the recent Ontario Court of Justice decision, striking down the Harper Government’s mandatory victim surcharges as unconstitutional. Justice David Paciocco’s judgment can be found here.


The problem with criminal justice fees — 1 Comment

  1. Being incarcerated for failing to pay restitution, for instance, is the modern equivalent of a debtor’s prison. In Canada there is a limited poverty defense. But there is a larger issue with absolute rather than relative fines in that the former fail to treat people equally. Fines would only apply equally if they were proportional to income in order to have the same effect for those guilty of the same offence. It’s not like it’s impossible – CRA should already know how much money you make.

    These last few lines from Paciocco J.’s decision are beautifully written, but tragic. I hope some day we feel less need to substitute social programs with jail (we have to pay for it either way!):
    46 … His desperation, and the depth of the addiction reflected in his theft, can be understood when looking at his background. Mr. Michael is the product of abuse. His introduction to the world was domestic violence, drunkenness and parental neglect. His formative years were marked by bullying, social rejection and cultural displacement. He now lives on the margins of society. He has no stable home. He is the poorest among us. He survives on the street. That he is addicted is not surprising. That he is unable to behave himself civilly when intoxicated is predictable. And while it is not excusable, the fact that he is frustrated enough to engage chronically in the largely nuisance behaviour he is being sentenced for is all but inevitable….