In 2016, the Obama DoJ issued guidance to US courts telling them to cease the practice of levying fines on poor people that exceeded their means to pay, especially fines for failure to pay earlier fines. This week, Trump Attorney General Jeff Sessions reversed that order.
Many US cities levy extraordinary fines on poor people to make ends meet without taxing wealthy homeowners; given racial wealth inequality, this means that American cities are full of white people paying low taxes because black people are being bankrupted by fines. Of course, it's hard to get poor people to pay money they don't have, so debtor's prisons and other Victorian punishments have become a fixture in these places, as incentive to future victims to beg, borrow or steal to pay their fines.
The Obama memo was nonbinding, and largely symbolic, but it gave ammo to reformers pushing to end this practice. Sessions' reversal takes away even that modest nod to decency and fairness.
It's the latest move in Sessions's effort to dramatically reshape the Justice Department by undoing many of the reforms imposed by his predecessors and giving the institution a harder edge. Sessions is revoking 25 previous guidance documents dating back decades and covering topics as diverse as ATF procedures and the Americans With Disabilities Act.
In a statement, Sessions said he was ending "the long-standing abuse of issuing rules by simply publishing a letter or posting a web page."
"Congress has provided for a regulatory process in statute, and we are going to follow it," Sessions said. "This is good government and prevents confusing the public with improper and wrong advice."
Sessions rescinds Justice Dept. letter asking courts to be wary of stiff fines and fees for poor defendants [Matt Zapotosky/Washington Post]
(via Late Stage Capitalism)