“Money talks” in Richmond County (Ga.) State Court, says the Augusta Chronicle. Someone who can afford to pay off fines for traffic and other misdemeanor offenses can usually walk out of court a free person. Anyone who can’t pay might find himself entangled in the system with a financial debt that keeps growing as he faces the prospect of either paying the court or going to jail. The court provides one of the largest sources of revenue for the county, outside of property taxes, by collecting fines from thousands of people cited for traffic offenses and misdemeanors. It’s also a moneymaker for the private probation company that holds the contract to collect those fines and surcharges.
Every month a person remains on probation means more money for the company. In any month a probationer cannot pay the monthly charge in full, the probation company can take half of the payment, leaving less money to pay down the court fines. It’s a system that ensnares those without money. Unlike declaring bankruptcy to get out from under high-interest credit card bills or accepting foreclosure to get out of a subprime mortgage loan, the debt to a court is binding and can mean a jail cell if it’s not paid. The Southern Center for Human Rights says the court has fostered a new kind of debtors’ prison.