Letter: Criminalizing the poor

July 7, 2014 

Many Mid-Columbia citizens do not realize that we have a system in Benton County that actually creates perpetual criminals. So, when folks say, "If you can't do the time, then don't do the crime," little do they realize that paying for that crime becomes an impossibility for those who are poor and have limited or no income.

Here's how the system works: Committing a misdemeanor results in an arrest; a court hearing results in being assessed large legal financial obligations (LFO's), plus a fine; then monthly assessments are set that must be paid in full each month, and, if not paid in full, a warrant is issued along with an added $100 warrant fee; the "offender" is cuffed and brought to jail (the offense now becomes "noncompliance" or failure to pay LFO's. (All LFO's have a 12 percent interest rate that accrues even during jail times).

Once released, the person is faced with an even higher monthly fee and the threat of another warrant being issued. Unfortunately, there is no limit to the number of jail cycles a person can serve. Through no fault of his or her own, the "offender" soon becomes a perpetual criminal, and the crime now is one of being poor. To make matters worse, housing opportunities become limited because of this practice, as do job opportunities, and the cycle continues.

ANNA BOPP, Richland

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