I don’t even know where to start with this story. Everything about it is terrible.
This story could have been turned into a 6th season of the Wire. The lack of a proper means to generate revenue for these tiny little municipalities means they rely heavily on fines to pay for their expenses. People are incentivized to keep the poor and predominantly black down.
Bel-Ridge has about 2,700 people, 83 percent of whom are black, and 42 percent of whom live below the poverty line. In 2013 the town’s municipal court handled 7,706 traffic citations and issued 1,723 arrest warrants. As the ArchCity Defenders report in their white paper, the town estimates that in 2014, “it will collect $450,000 in fine revenue–or, an average of about $450 per Bel-Ridge household — making municipal court fines the largest single source of revenue in the budget.”
Sales taxes are the primary source of revenue in most St. Louis County municipalities. Wealthier areas naturally see more retail sales, so the more affluent towns tend to be less reliant on municipal courts to generate revenue. In recent years a state pool was established to distribute sales taxes more evenly, but existing towns were permitted to opt out. Most did, of course. Perversely, this means that the collection of poorer towns stacked up along the east-west byways are far more reliant on municipal court revenues. That means they face much stronger incentives to squeeze their residents with fines, despite the fact that the residents of these towns are the people who are least likely to have the money to pay those fines, the least likely to have an attorney to fight the fines on their behalf, and for whom the consequences of failing to pay the fines can be the most damaging.
Those incentives then get passed on to the judges and prosecutors the towns appoint for their municipal courts, and the police officers they pay to enforce the ordinances. “I was representing a client in a poorer town and was negotiating with a prosecutor who was also the municipal prosecutor in a wealthier town,” Voss says. “He actually told me that if we were in the wealthier town he could cut my client a deal. But he couldn’t do it in the poorer town, because there was more pressure on him to generate revenue.”
This article is a must read. I feel like throwing a brick at something, but i’m not sure what. (via