THE DEMOCRAT PARTY'S WAR ON THE AMERICAN WORKER: ..."Because of the successful cheap-labor strategy, wages for men have
remained flat since 1973, and a large percentage of the nation’s annual
income has shifted to investors and away from employees."
Saturday, January 7, 2017
BOOK - A Pound of Flesh: The US Legal System's War Against the Poor by Alexes Harris, Russell Sage
A Pound of
Flesh: The US legal system’s war against the poor
By Nancy Hanover
7 January 2017
A Pound of Flesh: Monetary Sanctions as
Punishment for the Poor,Alexes Harris,Russell Sage, 2016
Many poor persons have been
taken and imprisoned a long time, for very small sums of money, to the utter
ruin of their families,and without any real benefit
tothe creditors; and forasmuch as it will be a very great hardship
and charge upon a poor prisoner, confined for a small debt—Laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 1729-1730
Throughout the United States there exists today
a shockingly punitive system of financial control that targets those falling
afoul of the criminal justice system, overwhelmingly affecting the poor.
Largely hidden from polite society, legal
financial obligations (LFOs)—fees, fines and sanctions—can be imposed for
almost any encounter on the wrong side of the law. They may be costly burdens
for those who have financial resources, but for the very poor they routinely
cause devastation, homelessness and even loss of their freedom.
LFOs are the subject of the 2016 book,A Pound of
Flesh:Monetary Sanctions as Punishment for the Poorby Alexes Harris. The Shakespearean metaphor for a draconian, if
not life-threatening, legal penalty is appropriately applied.
Harris, a Washington State University sociology
professor, combines on-the-ground research, interviews and case studies in the
northwestern state of Washington with national statistical analyses on LFOs.
She concludes that this brutal underbelly of the legal system constitutes “a
class-based punishment scheme” imposed by the “criminal justice system [to]
create and sustain inequality.”
While referencing the disproportionate effect of
this practice upon minorities and “marginalized” populations, Harris provides
examples across all racial groups. The issue of class predominates throughout
A Pound of Fleshpaints a revealing picture of how LFOs penalize the poorest in
society, including children. Harris shows how the most vulnerable can often be
made to pay for a system that criminalizes them.
Among her most important findings, the author
shows the erosion of democratic rights in the day-to-day functioning of the
court system. Lack of money often means an utter lack of rights. There is no
“fair or equal” in the setting, monitoring and supervision of LFOs. Harris
graphically reveals how decades of law-and-order policies embraced by Democrats
and Republicans at many levels of government have created a class-based system
of justice and obliterated the possibility of a second chance for many
Why would individuals be sentenced to debt?
It is almost unknown in America, except for
those unlucky enough to already be in the “system,” that the majority of people
convicted of misdemeanors or felonies are billed for fees or fines. In fact, in
most jurisdictions these fees and fines are levied in addition to community
service, probation or incarceration.
Defendants are now charged for a long list of
government services that once were free, including the constitutional right to
legal representation. WhileGideon v.Wainwright(1963) established a defendant’s right to counsel in a criminal
trial, the Supreme Court failed to identify a source of income to pay for that
attorney. As a result, burdening indigent defendants with the cost of
representation has been repeatedly ruled legal.
Defendants in at least 43 states and the
District of Columbia can be billed for a public defender, according to a NPR’s
yearlong investigation “Guilty and Charged,” which dovetails with Harris’s
However, the cost of a lawyer is just the
beginning of the Kafkaesque series of possible fines, fees and sanctions.
Defendants are forced to pay for every conceivable aspect of the correctional
system: booking fees, drug and alcohol tests, witness fees, a fee for asking
for a jury trial (double for a full 12-person jury in the state of Washington),
court services and filing fees.
Even those found innocent are forced to pay
LFOs. Some jurisdictions charge an accused person the full cost of housing in
jail while they await trial. The sheriff in Polk County, Iowa charges all
defendants a onetime fee of $75 for pretrial detention. In Louisiana, even if
defendants are found not guilty, they must come up with $100 to have their
arrest removed from their record.
If they are sent to jail, defendants often are
forced to pay restitution to the victim, per diem costs (“pay to stay”) or a la
carte fees for food, medical care, toilet paper, etc. As they complete their
sentence, new fees can be imposed for GPS monitoring, privatized probation,
interest and collection charges. In at least 44 states, offenders can be billed
for probation and parole supervision. In the state of Washington, there is a
whopping 12 percent interest charge on felony cases that accrues from the
moment of judgment until all fees are paid in full. In Pennsylvania there are
2,629 types of monetary sanctions.
Most defendants are unable to start payments
while they are in jail or prison, so that when they emerge, they face an
extremely precarious financial situation, alongside the often insurmountable
difficulty of finding a moderately good job with a conviction on one’s record.
A missed payment is considered a parole violation and a warrant will be issued
by most US states, leading to garnishment of any income and, in many cases,
re-imprisonment of the debtor.
The well-established process of imprisoning individuals
for nonpayment of LFOs is commonly referred to as “auto-jail” or “pay and sit.”
Defendants pay a certain amount toward their delinquent accounts or go to jail
in exchange for a daily credit toward monetary sanctions. Often defendants will
waive representation at such hearings because that will only increase their
overall debt. Clerks will set a certain number of days and determine the
The stories related by Harris are wrenching.
Individuals who struggle mightily to come up with sums beyond their reach are
told by the court to “collect bottles” or get loans from relatives. The author
relates that difficulties like homelessness or stage-four cancer are often not
taken into account by clerks and judges who demand either money or “auto-jail.”
As a result of the steady rise in the use of
monetary sanctions, Harris explains, indigent defendants “who comprise the vast
majority of criminal defendants in the United States, remain under criminal
justice supervision, paying per-payment and collection costs and interest on
the initial sentencefor the remainder of their lives” (emphasis added). The challenge of paying off one’s LFOs is
truly Sisyphean, as fees and costs are steadily rising. Forty-eight of 50
states have hiked costs since 2010.
“Our twenty-first-century criminal justice
system stains people’s lives forever,” Harris writes. “The permanent stain
results not just from a criminal conviction and the related societal stigma but
also from the financial debt, constant surveillance, and related punishment
incurred by monetary sanctions.” Many people make mistakes, the author
editorializes, but “the poor alone can never atone.”
These penalties are not just financial. Debtors
cannot regain rights lost upon conviction, including the right to vote, carry a
weapon, serve on juries or run for office until their account is paid in full.
Furthermore, debtors may not have their records sealed, receive pardons or
request deferred prosecutions—options better-off defendants utilize widely.
Here it can be noted that “pay to stay” programs
are not all created equal, as Harris puts it. In Beverly Hills, California
those violators who can prepay $110 a day can serve their sentences in a “safe,
clean and secure environment of the Beverly Hills Police Department’s Jail
But, of course, those finding themselves in the
clutches of the criminal justice system are overwhelmingly not of the select
“Beverly Hills” type, but are poor. Harris’s study indicates that between 30
and 36 percent of inmates were unemployed prior to their arrest. Of those
working, 26 percent had part-time jobs and one-quarter reported monthly
earnings of $600 or less, which placed them in the category of “deep poverty.”
Harris sympathetically relates the overwhelming
financial burdens of those she interviewed, of varying ages and races.
Reuben, 24, had lived in six different
correctional facilities in the states of Washington, Colorado and Minnesota
since he was 12. When he was 16, the juvenile courts “declined” jurisdiction
and he was sentenced in the adult system for assault, robbery and possession of
stolen property. Harris met Reuben in a work release program at a community
college. He was both attending school and working, but anxious because he could
see no way to pay off the $6,000 in LFOs he had accumulated.
Vilma, 34, a victim of domestic abuse, had shot
the father of her son. She was working in a two-year construction
apprenticeship program and making regular payments on her legal debt. But the
LFO, initially $33,000, had mushroomed 13 years later to an overwhelming
One interviewee explained the vicious circle to
the author, “I understand you have to pay your way, and the court has to pay
its way, and they got to collect off somebody. But it seems to me like the way
our criminal justice system works, you know, there’s too many people making
money out of corrections, and the corrections isn’t correcting anything. It’s
more creating people who are unable to get jobs, who are unable to deal in
society in ways that are, um, conforming, conform to the normal standards. So
they work outside the block, and those kinds of things that they do, which are
illegal, it just kind of compounds it.”
The Clinton counterrevolution
Monetary sanctions have a long history in the US.
They were first enacted in Michigan in 1846 when counties began to charge
inmates for medical care. But their scope and nature dramatically changed in
the 1990s under Democratic President Bill Clinton. In a series of right-wing
attacks on social and democratic rights, Clinton authorized the “three strikes”
omnibus crime bill in 1994, expanded death penalty statues, and ended “welfare
as we know it” in 1996. Byproducts of his law-and-order campaign were the
doubling of the US prison population, the growth of the for-profit prison
industry and the proliferation of LFOs.
The right-wing nostrum of “personal
responsibility” was used by courts and politicians across the US to enact a
vast expansion of punitive fees—sometimes to increase the salaries of judges or
sometimes simply to increase local revenues. By 2004, more than 50 percent of
state correctional systems had instituted “pay-to-stay” fees charging inmates
for their incarceration.
Today, after 40 years of expanding conviction
and incarceration rates, 2.25 million Americans are in jail or prison and 7.1
million under criminal justice supervision. Harris correctly emphasizes the
dramatic growth of the prison population as a corollary of growing social
“Estimates suggest that in 1976 1.17 million US
adults had received a felony conviction in their lifetime; in 1996 the number
had grown by 285 percent, to 3.34 million, and in 2010 the number of adults
living with a felony conviction had increased by 500 percent, to 5.85 million.”
These numbers, she concludes, shows one out of every 40 adults have been
convicted of a felony. Among African-American adults—disproportionally affected
by poverty—one out of 13 has experienced a felony conviction.
Over 2.6 million minor children (one in 28) now
have a parent in jail or prison. For black children, it is one out of four. The
experience is so prevalent that even “Sesame Street,” the popular children’s TV
program, has created a character that has a father in prison.
Meanwhile between 1986 and 2013, states have
increased their spending on the corrections system by more than double their
increase on K-12 education. Per inmate costs nationally were $31,286 in 2010.
By contrast, per-pupil spending on education averaged $21,608 throughout the
Monetary sanctions have also become an overt
fund-raising technique in impoverished communities. Polk County, Iowa raised
$718,728 in just one year from its “pay and stay” jail fees. But the most
notorious example came to light after protests over the police murder of
Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014.
An independent investigation found that the
small suburban enclave west of St. Louis had generated $2.2 million in
municipal fines in 2012 alone, amounting to $272 per household. To force the
payment of these fines, the city had issued 24,500 warrants in one year,
averaging 1.6 warrants per adult. Similar police practices were also uncovered
in Baltimore in the aftermath of protests over the police killing of Freddie
Gray in 2015.
Inability to pay among juveniles
As horrifying as the ongoing criminalization of
the poor is, it is even more heartbreaking to chronicle its effects on
Harris’s work has been complemented by a series
of additional studies, including the above-mentioned NPR report andDebtors’Prison For Kids?The High Cost of Fines and
Fees in the Juvenile Justice System,a 2016 study sponsored by the Juvenile Law Center.
The Juvenile Law Center report demonstrates how
the inability to pay can push young people deep into the juvenile justice
system, prevent the use of diversion programs and rehabilitation options, prevent
expungement of a juvenile record or force parents to be held in contempt,
incarcerated or have their driver’s licenses suspended.
Tragically, youth who would otherwise remain at
home with their families may be incarcerated because they can’t afford fees,
the study shows. And these are not small numbers of children and families being
affected. One million youth appear in juvenile court each year and in almost
every case, face the fines and fees.
The Juvenile Law Center report states that in
Arkansas, Kansas, Michigan, Montana, Oregon, Texas and Washington statutes
permit at least seven different categories of costs to be imposed on youth or
their families. The total fees to families for juvenile involvement in Alameda
County, California average $2,000, including those for investigations, GPS
monitoring, placement and public defenders.
In her work, Harris cites the case of a minor,
NST, who was convicted at age 14 of residential burglary and malicious
mischief. She fought with another youth over an iPod and threw a rock through a
window. NST was assessed $2,630.40 in legal financial obligations, including
restitution. She and her mother paid the minimum $10 per month. However,
because the entire obligation was not paid when she turned 18, her deferred disposition
was revoked and the charges will remain on her record for life.
A Pound of Fleshcorrectly points to the vast recent expansion of legal monetary
sanctions during a period of virtually unprecedented social polarization.
Unfortunately, the near-ubiquitous prevalence of identity politics in academia
has had its effect on Harris’s work. The weakest part of the book is her
concluding claim that the system of monetary sanctions amounts to a “natural
extension” of “prior systems of social control,” including Jim Crow racial
segregation and the post-Civil War Black Codes. This ahistorical racialized
approach discounts the complexities of class exploitation in order to shoehorn
the findings into a popular academic postmodernist framework.
Despite its weaknesses the compelling strength
of the book—its detailed exposure of the reactionary and brutal legal and
financial policies directed against the poor—takes center stage.Harris’s failure to address the
political origins and trajectory of these class war policies—as part of a more
thoroughgoing social counterrevolution aimed against all the gains of the
working class—does not prevent the critical reader from learning a great deal
about the state of American society from her work.
A Pound of Fleshprovides a sober look at the terrible social cost paid by millions
of Americans for the persistence of capitalism and its ever-more repressive
state apparatus. It is an eye-opener, and well worth reading.
US jobs report shows lower than expected hiring in December
By Tom Hall 7 January 2017
The December jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) showed that the American economy added 156,000 jobs last month, less than the 175,000 expected by economists.
The BLS’s breakdown of the figures showed that by far the largest share of job growth was from the service industry, with 132,000 jobs added, especially in the healthcare and social assistance sector which added 70,000 jobs.
Economists acknowledged the generally tepid character of the report. PNC chief economist Stuart Hoffman called it “a ‘vanilla pudding’ jobs report that keeps the Fed on a gradual rate hiking path.”
Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez went further, releasing a statement declaring that “[t]he US economy again demonstrated its strength in December.”
Manufacturing, while adding 17,000 jobs, remained slightly below employment levels from the previous December. The construction industry and mining and logging shed 3000 and 2000 jobs, respectively.
Average hourly wages rose 0.4 percent in December, or roughly 10 cents per hour compared to November. This meant a total increase in nominal wages of 2.9 percent through all of 2016, the largest annual wage increase since the end of the recession in 2009. Reports in the press presented this as balancing out the weaker than expected job growth.
However, the increase in wages last year is still well below the more than 3.5 percent annual wage growth that the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) estimates would have to be sustained for several years in order for American workers to recoup the wages they lost as a result of the Great Recession. Annual wage growth remains far below the levels from before the recession. In November 2007, the month before the official beginning of the recession, year-on-year wage growth rate was 3.89 percent.
Significantly, year-on-year monthly wage growth (according to figures from the EPI)during the recessionwas higher than at any point during the recovery, and never fell below the 2.9 percent being hailed as a sign of a strong jobs market today. This is consistent with the character of the “recovery” itself, with a return to profits based on predominantly low wage, part time or casual jobs, focused on lower-paying sectors such as the service industry.
The labor force participation rate remains at the near-historic lows which it has hovered around since the recession, rising slightly from 62.6 percent in November to 62.7 percent in December. This is largely driven by the millions of workers who, discouraged by poor job prospects, have given up looking for work and have dropped out of the labor force altogether.
The EPI estimated that there were 2.33 million “missing workers,” in December, or people who were not employed but were not seeking work due to “weak job opportunities” and are therefore not counted in the official unemployment rate (which, driven by the slight increase in labor force participation last month, rose slightly from 4.6 to 4.7 percent). If it included these workers, the EPI noted, the unemployment rate would be 6.1 percent.
The structural shift in the labor market means that the traditional statistics used to measure the jobs market mask a more dire underlying reality. This was acknowledged by the head of the Gallup polling agency in 2015 when he called the official unemployment rate a “Big Lie” of contemporary American politics.
An alternate measure of joblessness compiled by the BLS, referred to in the press as the “real unemployment rate,” which includes those “marginally attached” to the labor force and those working part time jobs involuntarily, was 9.2 percent last month.
The fact, promoted by Perez in his official statement, that the American economy has had 75 consecutive months of job increases belies the fact that the recession resulted in the steepest job losses in decades. On top of this, the “recovery” of total employment figures since the official end of the recession in June 2009 is by far the slowest on record.
According to a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the American economy took more than six years to recover all of the jobs lost as a result of the recession. The overwhelming majority of the jobs that have been created since the recession have been in low wage sectors such as the service industry.
In spite of the generally tepid character of the report, the Federal Reserve is increasingly concerned that the labor market is beginning to “tighten,” which would result in upward pressure on wages. The U.S. central bank is determined to stop such a development.
While the Fed is currently committed to a policy of a gradual rise in interest rates, a tightening jobs market could convince them to accelerate interest rate rises to prevent rising wages. This was acknowledged by the Fed following its Open Market Committee meeting last month, when it declared, “Some participants noted that if the labor market appeared to be tightening significantly more than expected, it might become necessary to adjust the Committee’s communications about the expected path of the federal funds rate, consistent with the possibility that a less gradual pace of increases would become appropriate.”
"Republicans should call for lower immigration to stop the Democrat voter cruitment. But more importantly, all Americans should call for lower immigration in order to offer a better opportunity of finding jobs for those millions of their fellow Americans of all political persuasions who would like to work."
MILLIONS OF AMERICAN JOBS HANDED OVER TILLEGALS ALONG WITH BILLIONS IN WELFARE.... AND
THE PARTY HAS JUST BEGUN!
THE DEMOCRAT PARTY PLATFORM:
NO DAMNED LEGAL NEED APPLY!
VIVA LA RAZA FASCISM? THEN VOTE DEM!
"Republicans should call for lower immigration to stop the Democrat voter recruitment. But more importantly, all Americans should call for lower immigration in order to offer a better opportunity of finding jobs for those millions of their fellow Americans of all political persuasions who would like to work."
“In the US, the working class will confront a government unlike any other in American history, which will continue and intensify a decades-long social counterrevolution overseen by the Democrats and Republicans. The incoming Trump administration is manned by billionaires, generals and arch reactionaries. It is a government of, by and for the oligarchy, committed to destroying every remaining gain won by workers over the past century.”
FIXING AMERICA’S UNEMPLOYMENT CRISIS:
How many jobs in your community are held by foreign born?
MILLIONS of JOBS and BILLIONS in WELFARE and they commit most of the MURDERS
SANCTUARY CITIES AND STATES: AMERICA FALLS TO LA RAZA SUPREMACY!
“What we're seeing is our Congress and national leadership dismantling our laws by not enforcing them. Lawlessness becomes the norm, just like Third World corruption. Illegal aliens now have more rights and privileges than Americans. If you are an illegal alien, you can drive a car without a driver's license or insurance. You may obtain medical care without paying. You may work without paying taxes. Your children enjoy free education at the expense of taxpaying Americans.”