Money Bail, Fines, Fees, & Court Costs Ruin Lives: Never Based On Ability To Pay, Causing Hardship For Low-Income People

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This is Part 4 of a multi-part interview with Professor Edelman, author of Not A Crime To Be Poor and So Rich, So Poor: Why It’s So Hard To End Poverty in America.

In this segment of the interview, Professor Edelman discusses the devastating effects of the money bail system on low-income people in America. These negative effects often stem from causing someone with a job and family, but no extra money in their lives for cash bail, to plead guilty to a crime they didn’t commit just to go home. This often causes them to lose their job, and be unable to obtain a new one due to their criminal record, which many employers do investigate prior to or after extending a job offer.

Such individuals, if they plead guilty to a felony crime, may also lose renting, home-buying, and finance opportunities, become ineligible for food stamps and welfare benefits, and they also lose the right to vote and have a voice in their community.

In addition to money bail, most courts also charge excessive fines and fees, none of which are based on the ability of the respondent to pay. These types of costs are often applied when someone gets an ticket related to driving an automobile. So, this generally applies when someone pleads not guilty to a traffic ticket, but can be applicable in other situations. But an example of this related to traffic court could be the following:

Suppose that you have received a traffic ticket for using a cell phone. In NYC, five such tickets will result in license suspension automatically. However, even at the first ticket, if you choose to fight the ticket, and the judge rules against you, there is first a court fee. This is for having even contested the charge against you, since if it was uncontested, this cost would not be in the fine. In addition to this court fee, there are multiple other fees that are included in the original ticket. This can sometimes be as high as $200 or more, and generally starts at around $80. When a person does not have the ability to pay, there is often no option for them except to lose their license.


Without an attorney, in most counties it happens far too often that the case is already lost. Many attorneys offer reasonable fees, varying from county to county, but even their modest fees are often unaffordable for those with low income. In addition, in many larger cities, there are attorneys that offer low income people free services, but not everyone is aware of the groups providing these types of lawyers.

To see the previously published parts of the interview, or the review of Not A Crime To Be Poor, please click on the links below.

Not A Crime To Be Poor review

Interview Part 1: Working in politics, causes of poverty


Interview Part II: Contributing Factors to Poverty in America 

Interview Part III: Lack of lawyers for low-income people


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