Letter: Unequal justice

April 5, 2014 

In 1855, Charles Dickens began publishing in monthly installment the story of the William Dorrit family's incarceration in a debtors' prison. In Little Dorrit, Dickens drew on his childhood memories of his father's imprisonment in Marshalsea for a debt of 40 pounds, 10 shillings. The English abolished imprisonment for debt with the passage of the Debtors Act of 1869.

Surprisingly, a debtors' prison is alive and well in the Benton County jail, where a failure to pay fees and fines at the exorbitant interest rate of 12 percent can land an individual in jail at the public's expense. This passion for retribution needs to be replaced with enlightened treatment that recognizes the root socioeconomics of imprisonment. A true "re-entry" into society with a chance for success requires tuition assistance to trade school or junior college; with good conduct and evidence of job search this assistance could be renewed.

There are two levels of justice in this country. Trouble paying a fine, then you could go to debtor's prison. But if your crime is mortgage fraud, no need to worry. In a report recently released by the inspector general of the Justice Department, the FBI closed 747 mortgage fraud cases without a prosecution.


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