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Physical beatings such as torture and death were common spectacles throughout early time periods as styles of punishing those who disobeyed laws in a society (Foucault 5). Eventually, as human rights reached wider parameters these methods became less used as the justice system had to adapt to the world around them. Monetary sanctions are a type of criminal sentence levied by state courts that include fines, fees, and restitution. Until these dues are paid in full, these people remain under supervision by the courts, and subject to court summons, warrants, and jail time. As a result of interest that gathers on these unpaid penalties, many offenders become subject to permanent debt that is carried for the rest of their lives. This new punishment method allows for the justice system to control people while keeping them in the society and physically unharmed.
Being that the majority of people who receive convictions of any extent in the U.S. are of color and/or poor, with insignificant employment and income pre or post conviction. Levying these monetary penalties cements people to lives of poverty and reinforces inequalities between race and income. This closely resembles the ideas of race theory, for the higher ups are using these fines to suppress the ability of colored individuals. Because the cost of incarceration and courts is so high they have placed these expenses onto the offenders to relieve the negative impact on the state. Consequently, with the majority of the defendants being poor or unemployed, this causes them to be in a lifetime of debt. Furthermore, if these payments are not fully paid off they risk the chance of receiving warrants, drivers license suspension, loss of voting rights, and perhaps the most hefty, incarceration (Harris 57). This new wave of punishment used as a cheaper incarceration has only heightened year after year. From traffic stops to court fines, the government finds new ways to get money out of people’s pockets to benefit themselves. For alongside the financial gain it limits those who can receive benefits from the government. By issuing warrants the defendants run the risk of losing the ability to retain or obtain welfare benefits or jobs, which is a big issue that most conservative leaders wish were absent (Edin & Lein 20).
Shortages at each level of government has placed pressures on public establishments to cut costs or to provide income, thus monetary sanctions were created. Due to the mass incarceration seen throughout the 1900s, the government needed new ways to punish people, for the cost of criminal justice was too much. Therefore, imposing fees that come with interest and surcharges to the violators became the direction the justice system turned to. Benefitting financially, these dues also incarcerated the individuals as they were under the courts jurisdiction until they completed the payment.
Though these LFOs, or legal financial obligations, are seen across the world I was unable to find ample information about how or why other countries use them. However, through a study by Alexes Harris of UW, it is seen that states with higher volumes of diversity and high cost of living, such as California and Seattle, are of the top places in imposing costly penalties (Harris 102). Demographic features such as race, nationality, gender, and age accompany the sternness of monetary sanctions imposed. That being said, the state courts have the ability to dictate the severity of the punishment they want to place on the perpetrator. This can be seen as a good or bad thing, as a person who violated a law could receive the lowest penalty that comes with his/her charge, while on the other hand the opposite could happen where he/she receives the highest possible sentencing. Putting this much power into the hands of the state has caused many problems for the colored and poor communities.
The sole alternative to this form of punishment in today’s society can only be seen as imprisonment. However, a great way to offset the monetary loss experienced by the government and perps that is not used enough is community service. Instead of having to pay money they should have the ability to give back with their service. This not only helps loss of money but improves the society as well by benefitting the community that has been harmed by the offender’s crime. Community service offers an chance for the offender to see the unintended damages caused by his/her wrongdoing. Furthermore, the defendant is provided with a positive and proactive way of solving what they did.. Finally, community services can be a great source of beneficial work for government institutions and nonprofit organizations as they get free labor. The only downfall of this method is if it is misused. As explained earlier, colored groups are disproportionately sought after by the criminal system, therefore, if abused, community service could be used as another way of bringing back slavery. Seeming to be the only con of this form of punishment, community service could be great for society if used correctly because of its benefit for all parties, but due to the lack of money obtained from its implementation it is likely that it will continue to be a punishment that is rarely used.
Money is the sole driving force of everything around the world. With money comes power, and with that comes the ability to control those around you. In need of protecting profits, white political leaders established monetary sanctions as a way of bringing incarceration from jails to the whole country. Placing these court fees, tickets, and fines on the hands of the people allowed officials to obtain more power and money at the same time. Limiting colored and impoverished communities to find a way out of the ever flowing cycle of poverty and imprisonment that clouds their lives. However, they have the ability to right their wrongs by pushing community service, amongst other methods, that hold the perps accountable without total loss of socioeconomic flexibility.
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