U.S. Attorney General Lorretta Lynch
Even though the Criminal Justice system has recently come under heavy scrutiny with the unlawful shootings of unarmed Blacks in various areas of the country, the system is also unfairly targeting lower income individuals through excessive fees, fines and bails, according to the White House and the U.S. Department of Justice.
U.S. Attorney General Lorretta Lynch addressed the need for Criminal Justice Reform along more monetary means to correct a system that unfairly targets men and women of color solely based on their income threshold at the White House Dec. 3.
“What is the price of justice?” Lynch asked the audience composed of law makers, judges, criminal justice advocates and experts. “It has become painfully clear that in so many incidences an individual’s access to justice has become predicated on their ability to literally pay for it.”
Lynch said the cost of the justice system are creating a larger level of mistrust and disbelief from the community on the criminal justice system. She likened the system to multibillion dollar corporations such as Wal-Mart.
“This is not the criminal justice system for which those of us who are working for fairness and equality will be pursuing,” Lynch said, referencing that money collections are methods of criminalizing poverty.
“A debt must be capable of being paid, if it is not a lifetime guilt of servitude,” she said.
White House staff and representatives from DOJ, Domestic Policy Council, institutions of higher education, Americans for Tax Reform, charity organizations, and My Brother’s Keeper Task Force along with actor Michael B. Jordan and journalist David Simon convened in a conversations throughout the day on the ills of the country’s correctional system, to take steps forward to fix it.
“I shouldn’t be here,” Jordan said, acknowledging that, as a young Black man, he was afforded several opportunities and luxuries that were not afforded to several of the characters he has played, including Oscar Grant in Fruitvale Station (2013) and Wallace in TV series the Wire (2002-2008).
The day consisted of several panels with experts in various judicial, educational and social fields. The first panel consisted of Jordan, Simon and Cynthia Jones, a law professor at American University in D.C. The panel reviewed police officer, community interactions in Baltimore and New Jersey – Jordan’s home town – and bail discrepancies amongst the poor.
According to a December 2015 issues brief by the Council of Economic Advisors, a recent study found judicial discretion in bail amounts leads to higher levels of bail for Black defendants as opposed to their White counterparts.
“Crime imposes real costs on society in terms of both the harm done to victims and in resources that must be allocated to policing, prosecution and incarceration,” the brief said. “Increases in criminal justice spending have put a strain on local criminal justice budgets and led to the broader use of fine penalties and itemized criminal justice fees in an effort to support budgets.”
However, the report found that excessive fines and fees, especially those that have not been or are yet to be paid are not helping the system mitigate cost, nor is it saving tax payers money.
A few suggestions included changing the way in which bail is assessed, switching the system from a fixed amount based on crime to a more fluid amount that is based on each individual’s personal income. Also, according to the report, some jurisdictions across the county, have begun to get rid of correctional fees and fines, which have been shown to be inefficient burdens on several municipalities.
“We have a lot to talk about and we have a lot to do. We have a lot going on,” Lynch said.