Parents who can't pay the bill for kids' incarceration can still go bankrupt, a US court rules

When Maria Rivera got a bill from Orange County for her young son's year in juvenile detention, she sold her house to pay for it, but ended up short, and the county got a court order for another $10K to pay the remainder and various fees and penalties.

When Rivera declared bankruptcy, the county refused to let up, arguing that the law that prevents parents from escaping their child-support duties in bankruptcy applied to parents who'd been dinged for their kids' jail time. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the county, saying that this was bullshit, and letting Rivera get on with her life.

The court wrote that the case was "troubling" because it "compromise[s] the goals of juvenile correction and the best interests of the child, and, ironically, impair the ability of his mother to provide him with future support."

The court condemned the reliance of the probation department on "unremittingly pursuing legal actions against disadvantaged individuals." Given the overwhelmingly racist character of the US criminal justice system, sending poor, racialized people inescapable bills for their kids' jail time is profoundly unjust and cruel, the first step on the path that the Chinese pursued, whose terminus was the practice of sending families bills for the bullets used to execute their loved ones.

Orange County's public budget shows that the Probation Department relies on self-generated revenue for more than 40% of its financing. Seeking to obtain that revenue by unremittingly pursuing legal actions against disadvantaged individuals — the counterproductive practice at issue here — can have damaging effects on the community. Not only does such a policy unfairly conscript the poorest members of society to bear the costs of public institutions, operating "as a regressive tax," but it takes advantage of people when they are at their most vulnerable, essentially imposing "a tax upon distress."

Everything Wrong With How Our Justice System Treats Poor People, In One Awful Case
[Ian Millhiser/Think Progress]

(via Naked Capitalism)