You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to SpringfieldNewsSun.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and interactive features. Starting at just 99c for 8 weeks.

X

Welcome to SpringfieldNewsSun.com

Your source for Clark and Champaign counties’ hometown news. All readers have free access to a limited number of stories every month.

If you are a News-Sun subscriber, please take a moment to login for unlimited access.

Poor unfairly jailed for failing to pay fines, report says

Ohio’s chief justice says the issue merits ‘further attention.’


Courts in at least seven counties routinely jail Ohioans for owing court fines and fees, in violation of the state constitution and laws and against a 1983 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, according to a new study released by the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio.

Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor says the report raises issues that “can and must receive further attention.”

While many defendants can pay their fines and walk away, for Ohio’s poor a fine “is just the beginning of a process that may involve contempt charges, mounting fees, arrest warrants, and even jail time,” the report says.

The ACLU documented debtors prison practices in Springboro mayor’s court and municipal courts in Hamilton County, Sandusky, Norwalk, Parma, Mansfield and Bryan. Messages left with the courts in Springboro and Hamilton County were not immediately returned.

Other courts, including Moraine mayor’s court, employ policies such as arresting defendants for not showing up for hearings where they’re supposed to explain why they haven’t paid their fines, said Mike Brickner, ACLU of Ohio communications director.

The hearings are sometimes scheduled weekly, increasing the chances that the defendant will eventually miss one and face a bench warrant, he said.

Moraine City Manager David Hicks said he hasn’t seem the report or received any feedback from the ACLU. He added that the court is typically accommodating to defendants who call and ask for a continuance due to schedule conflicts.

The ACLU calls on the Ohio Supreme Court to issue administrative rules to require courts to hold hearings to determine whether a defendant is unable to pay fines owed or if they’re just unwilling. Even if a defendant is just refusing to pay, he or she is supposed to be credited $50 per day spent in jail against the debt.

Jailing people costs between $58 and $65 per night, plus the time spent by officers and clerks to track the person down, arrest them, book them into the jail and file paperwork. Often the costs exceed the debts owed.

“It is not a good deal for the taxpayers. (The defendants) aren’t not paying because they don’t feel like it. They’re not paying because the literally have no money,” Brickner said.

Brickner said it creates a two-tier justice system for those who are able to pay fines and those who can’t.

In March 2011, police stopped Tim Furlong in Warren County for not having a front license plate and cited him for the plate, failing to have a child in a booster seat, driving without a license and having a small amount of marijuana and rolling papers in the car. Furlong, too poor to hire his own lawyer, asked for a court appointed attorney, pleaded guilty and was fined $300 and ordered to pay $75 in court costs.

Two years later, he has been forced to show up in court more than 10 times to explain why he hasn’t paid the fees, jailed three times for a combined total of about three weeks, and charged with more fines, he said. He currently owes $550 and there is a bench warrant out for his arrest, according to Warren County Clerk of Court records.

Furlong, 30, is homeless, jobless and suffers from recurrent mental health issues that have landed him in the hospital. He said he cycles between jail, the hospital and homelessness.

“I’ve just been basically told to pay every time I’ve gone to court. I can barely find enough to eat everyday. I have a hard time doing that,” Furlong said. “To pay $500 — I just can’t do that.”

Chief Justice O’Connor is promising to meet with ACLU of Ohio Executive Director Christine Link as soon as possible to discuss the findings in the report.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Crime

1 man shot during protest at University of Washington
1 man shot during protest at University of Washington

The Seattle Fire Department said the man, who was shot in the campus’ Red Square, has possible life threatening injuries, KIRO7.com reported. Police said the man was shot in the abdomen.
Sunday Calendar

CLUBS AND ORGANIZATIONS MONDAY 10:30 a.m.: Overeaters Anonymous, a 12-step group for compulsive eaters, will meet at the Alano Club, 1557 E. Main St. 6 p.m.: Al-Anon, a 12-step program for families and friends of alcoholics, will meet at the Alano Club, 1557 E. Main St. Entrance in back. Handicap accessible. For more information, call 937-342-2218...
At the DC protests, a naked guy and a raging car fire
At the DC protests, a naked guy and a raging car fire

Protesters took to the streets soon after President Donald Trump was inaugurated today, and law enforcement officers were quickly there as well. The scene was initially tense, with flash grenades going off and pepper spray streaming, but things cooled after a while. At one point, with a phalanx of police officers blocking a street...
Local psychologist offers tips on talking to kids about school violence
Local psychologist offers tips on talking to kids about school violence

With many struggling to cope with today’s school shooting at West Liberty-Salem High School, a local psychologist has tips for parents as they respond to questions and concerns about school violence. "I think it's important to allow children to talk about any anxiety or concerns that they may be having," said Mary Beth DeWitt, PhD,...
Report: Florida city among most roach-infested in the U.S.
Report: Florida city among most roach-infested in the U.S.

It’s not only Zika that Floridians have to worry about, after one city made the list as the third most cockroach-infested place in the U.S.  >> Read more trending stories  According to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Miami ranked as the third-highest city to have these crawling critters out of the 25...
More Stories