The Justice Department discourages the state court systems from putting the defendants to jail when they fail to pay fees or fines, and advised against the use of anything that violates the Constitution, thereby, destroying the trust of the community.
The federal government sent a letter on Monday to the state court administrators, making clear that the judges must consider having alternatives instead of jailing poor defendants who cannot pay their fines. The letter also states that the defendants must not be locked up without the presence of a judge who can establish that the defendant deliberately failed to pay, NBC News reported.
Justice Department came out with the said memo after a meeting in December with court administrators, judges, prosecutors and others, wherein the improvements in the way of assessing the court fines and fees were discussed.
A new guidance was established at the time when some local courts are believed to be punishing the poor people because of their poverty by forcing fees and fines, that when they fail to pay, may lead to jail time. Such practice was discovered last year through a critical federal report on the city government of Ferguson, Missouri, in which a conclusion was made stating that the municipal court made revenue a priority instead of safety.
While the state court system works separately from the Justice Department, the memo is meant to notify local judges regarding the violation of federal law if jail time is ordered for unpaid fine, as it pushes the people in a series of increasing debt, unemployment and useless incarceration.
Furthermore, the letter states that the defendants must be given proper notice by the courts when implementing fees or fines and that bonds that the defendant cannot afford to pay should not be imposed.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department announced competitive grants worth $2.5 million to local and state governments that may wish to review changes in the assessment and enforcement of court fines and fees, Yahoo reported.