A new kind of organized crime

Untitled.pngMy favorite movie is Goodfellas. Martin Scorsese has an amazing ability as a director to make you like people you shouldn’t, and you can see this in pretty much every film he has done, from Casino to The Wolf of Wall St.

But in Goodfellas for some reason, you really like the bad guys. Those types of films glorify the lives of people who ruin the lives of others – you don’t think about the family of the shopkeeper that gangster just mugged – all you care about is the mugger and his story. Organized crime, I believe, is the most dangerous type of crime out there. No other type of crime has the power to destroy someone quite like organized crime. Thankfully, due to our legal system and R.I.C.O. (The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) organized crime has since been swiftly demolished and its heyday is long gone.

Or is it?

I’m going to be completely honest here – I had no idea that any of this Debtors Prison stuff was going on. Knowledge on this subject just wasn’t (key word – wasn’t) in my wheel house and needless to say, I was appalled after watching this documentary, so much that I needed to actually take time after watching it to process what I had just seen. I just couldn’t believe it – so I watched another two-part documentary on the subject and it still made no sense.

How Is this legal?

This is organized crime. Instead of a shop keeper paying insurance to a mob boss to not have their store destroyed, poor people are paying “insurance” to debt collection agencies (or in some cases, to municipalities) to not be incarcerated. This concept is so simple I shouldn’t have to say it, and yet here we are; if you profit off other people’s misfortune,  you are an ass. One documentary I watched reported that all of the municipalities in St. Louis made $60 million in one year off fines and fees from poor people. That is horrific. Now sure, if you break the law you should have some kind of repercussion – but a traffic ticket should not equate to months or years on probation and thousands of dollars in fines. Some of these probation companies don’t even allow the offenders to pay down the principal of the ticket – forcing the fees to keep being incurred onto the ticketholders. Furthermore, courts delegate powers to these outside companies. – I didn’t even know that was legal. How can a private company with explicit interests to turn a profit have court-delegated powers?

It’s not just private companies too, cash-strapped municipalities in rural states are now issuing “quality of life” tickets to people for such atrocities as having a BBQ in the front yard, grass that is too tall, and having ingrown vines, among other things. If the homeowner cannot pay the BS debt to the town, they get promptly put on probation and start getting charged monthly fees and threatened with incarceration. There is a large majority of towns whosecore revenue is derived from ticketing otherwise innocent people. Of the people interviewed in this documentary, many said that they are not afraid of criminals robbing them, but rather they are afraid of city officials imprisoning and robbing them– one interviewee even referring to them as the Gestapo (no further comment needed). A common theme from multiple documentaries I watched is that if you want to catch up with someone from the town, go to the court. Everyone will be there.

I, like you should be, am appalled at this. Cash-strapped local governments and collection agencies are literally acting as the current day mafia, extorting people for money they do not have in order to obtain something they are constitutionally given – freedom. This type of behavior perpetuates the income inequality problem in our country. It breaks up families. It ruins lives. If the government was the only force to stop the mafia, then who will stop the government?

By Andrew Wasserman

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