What surprised me about the documentary ‘To Prison For Poverty’ was the fact that the concept of debtors jail and punishment for poverty still exists. It makes no sense to have a group of people who can not afford to pay be put in jail because of it. It’s as though these states have enacted a new way to rid the area of low-income individuals.
Initially, I did not know that there was a way for probation programs to collect money from individuals. For someone who is coming out of jail with very few resources (no job, possible no home) there is little to no extra money. All of the individuals who were interviewed as part of the documentary discussed how the money they were paying was going towards a fee and not to actual tickets or punishments. This continued a cycle of depriving someone from earning money in order to survive.
However, this problem does not stop once the probation is up. One woman discussed how they tried to re-enroll her in probation just so they could get money. By not knowing that she was back on parole, the police held her for 20 days before she was released. Fees begin to mount and thus payments rarely go down to a manageable level. The idea of punishing the poor is something that continues to be a problem in our country. Instead of working with individuals to develop a plan to help them, these private collectors only care about the money.
This documentary relates to what we have learned about poverty and the inequalities that come with it. Low-income individuals can not pay the fee and thus, will be stuck in a cycle of debt, jail, and issues with the law. People making enough money can pay off the fees consistently, and not have it impact their lives. Every extra dollar spent on fees could be money put toward food, health insurance, or a child education. With a justice system that should be helping to rehabilitate, this system is doing nothing but dehumanizing and further impoverishing individuals.
By Allison Smith