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A man jailed for stealing cookies can’t post his $5 bond
Wikimedia/ Jeremy Keith
An Albuquerque man has been sitting in jail for weeks because he can't come up with the $5 bond owed for allegedly shoplifting cookies.
Stealing cookies isn’t the type of thing that normally lands as person in jail, but one Albuquerque, N.M., man has been sitting in jail for weeks because he can’t pay the $5 bond levied against him for allegedly shoplifting cookies.
According to ABC News, Lucky Crowder was arrested for shoplifting cookies several weeks ago. A few days after his arrest, however, he was arrested again for biting a nurse and the resulting felony charges landed him in jail on an expensive bond he could not pay. With that over his head, he was brought before a judge on the cookie-stealing charge. That judge assigned him a tiny, $5 bond, figuring it would not make much difference because Crowder was already sitting in jail because he couldn’t pay the larger bond.
But then the felony biting case was dismissed, and Crowder found himself sitting in jail owing only a $5 bond for stealing cookies. Normally that would have a person back on the streets right away, but Crowder has reportedly been unable to pay the $5. He called a bail bondsman, but bondsmen aren’t allowed to post cash bail at the jail, so the bewildered bondsman couldn’t help.
"With everybody in his world and everybody in his life, he couldn't raise $5," bondsman Gerald Madrid said.
Crowder’s $5 bond is actually costing the city a lot more money than he owes. Keeping him in jail costs approximately $80 per day, and he’s expected to cost the city more than $3,000 unless someone comes in and pays $5 on his behalf.
Completing requests in Persona 5 Strikers will earn you some amazing rewards, so be sure not to miss a single one with our complete guide.
When playing Persona 5 Strikers, you will eventually unlock the Request system on the evening of August 2nd, which will allow you to undertake requests from the main menu or the Hideout menu to earn yourself some extra rewards, including items, raising bond levels, persona fusion items, and more.
Most requests will automatically be added to the menu for you to accept, but some are offered by your companions and you must speak with them on specific dates in order for the requests to appear, making many of them missable. To ensure you don't miss any requests, we've got a full guide below detailing every single one, the date they can be accepted, and which are missable as they must be manually accepted.
For almost all our evolutionary history, humans have dedicated a great deal of our cognitive resources to learning about the space around us and how we fit into it. Where am I? Where do I belong? Where am I going? How do I get there? These are the raw questions of existence and survival.
To answer them, our prehistoric ancestors developed powerful systems of spatial memory that enabled them to make journeys of hundreds of miles across unfamiliar landscapes, to trade and share food and stay in touch with their neighbors. We’ve been using those faculties ever since. Our navigation abilities and spatial awareness are, quite literally, part of our DNA, fundamental to what makes us human.
Today, with much of the world on lock-down, we find ourselves in an unfamiliar relationship with our surroundings. For a species primed for movement, the lack of it feels disorienting. This may be because at a neural level, many of our cognitive functions depend on our brain’s spatial system. The spatial cells in the hippocampus, which allow us to delineate distance and direction and the shapes and dimensions of places, are equally important in helping us recall the past and imagine the future.
If the same brain networks that support physical navigation also support mental navigation, it isn’t hard to conceive how living in a restricted environment might affect our minds. In the most extreme cases, confinement—particularly when it’s solitary—can lead to mental breakdown. Kidnapping victims and supermax prisoners who are held in small spaces for long periods often suffer great anguish. Obsessional thinking, paranoia and panic attacks are the norm, and full-blown psychosis is not uncommon.
But if the elimination of space can crush us, the judicious and creative use of it can bring salvation. When we’re unable to move around, we can become wayfinders of the mind. This is how some people in solitary confinement have succeeded in keeping themselves more or less sane, by embarking on flights of imagination that allowed them to transcend their immediate reality. Hussain al-Shahristani was Saddam Hussein’s chief nuclear adviser before being jailed for refusing to work on a nuclear weapon. He survived 10 years of solitary confinement by taking refuge in a world of abstractions, making up mathematical problems and trying to solve them. Michael Jewell, who served 40 years in a Texas jail for murder, coped with seven years of isolation by inventing fantasy scenarios in which he roamed open spaces and interacted with strangers. “When I opened my eyes. I would feel refreshed and even invigorated,” he told the magazine Nautilus.
Virtual team building events are specific occasions for hosting virtual team building games/activities or exercises. For example, popular virtual team building events include birthday parties and online fundraisers.
Virtual happy hours are video meetings dedicated to fun virtual team games and activities, and may be part of the work day or at the end of it. For example, you might include a round of icebreaker questions and then do virtual team trivia. Most people include drinks as well.
Virtual happy hours are also good for fun Friday virtual activities.
Check out our list of virtual happy hour ideas for more inspiration.
Virtual coffee breaks are usually one-on-one or small group sessions, and are conducted for 15 to 30 minutes during the work day. The purpose of these breaks is to help build relationships and community among coworkers.
The essentials for a successful virtual birthday party are:
If you have a large team, then planning virtual birthday parties may become redundant. Instead, you can unite the April babies around the shared birthday month, and the same for the other 11 groups too.
Virtual retirement parties or “farewell parties” are online gatherings for the purpose of sending off a teammate. These parties generally occur during work hours, and include video team building games and activities.
Virtual fields trips have similarities to the real world off-sites, and usually include “getting out of the video call.” For example, a remote field trip might include a virtual museum tour or a similar space. Virtual field trips are excellent virtual team building activities for teachers, students and kids, especially during quarantine.
One way to build morale with employees is to choose a meaningful cause and raise funds or donations for it. For example, many offices are familiar with doing a food drive or a community sponsorship.
I recommend partnering with a donation platform to help facilitate the transactions and add credibility to the collections. For the cause, anything that resonates with your team can be a good fit.
I t was late afternoon on 26 December 2016 – the day after Christmas, a day when most stores are busy processing the returns for unwanted gifts – when Curtis Lawson entered a Walmart in Knoxville, Tennessee. He had a receipt for $39.57 in purchases made earlier that month. He needed cash. He walked through the store, picking up the same items he had purchased previously – dishwasher detergent, Oral-B refills, and a pair of girl’s jeggings – and put them in a shopping bag. He brought them to the register, returned the items using his receipt, and received $39.57 in cash. Lawson had committed what is known as “return fraud” – pretending to return items that you didn’t buy.
When Lawson walked into the Walmart empty-handed, Walmart loss prevention officer Robert McAuley decided he looked suspicious and watched him on the security cameras. He watched Lawson pick up the clothes and return them at the customer service desk. McAuley immediately detained Lawson, who admitted right away that he had stolen the items, and Lawson was eventually charged with shoplifting and criminal trespass. What came next was a startling encounter with a local criminal justice system heavily influenced by a big box retailer’s desire to reduce shoplifting and a prosecutor’s penchant for punishing those who are more unlucky than dangerous.
Lawson had at least three outstanding warrants, most of which were related to traffic violations, including a DUI. Lawson’s attorneys admitted that Lawson had a drug addiction and sometimes shoplifted to support his habit, but noted that he had never been accused of being a threat to anyone’s safety. Because of the outstanding warrants, his bail was set at $2,500 total, and he was immediately taken to jail. On 9 January, a warrant was issued for Lawson that escalated his shoplifting charge to a felony because, according to the arrest affidavit, Lawson was not allowed to be inside Walmart at all. Therefore his return fraud was a burglary – a felony punishable by up to 12 years of prison. His bail was jacked up to $5,000.
In Tennessee, as in many states, shoplifting items under $1,000 is a misdemeanor. But, in the past few years, the Knox county district attorney’s office has been prosecuting people like Lawson under the burglary statute, which under Tennessee law is defined as “unlawfully and knowingly entering a building without the consent of the owner and committing a theft”.
It turned out that Lawson had been arrested for shoplifting a bra over four years earlier from another Walmart location. That time, Lawson was issued what’s called a “Notification of Restriction from Property” by Walmart loss prevention staff. This piece of paper essentially restricts someone’s access to Walmart by officially “evicting” them from the property forever. The notice informs Lawson that he is “no longer allowed on property owned by Walmart Stores Inc or in any area subject to Walmart Stores Inc’s control” and it includes “all retail locations or subsidiaries”. Such documents, according to the loss prevention officer at Lawson’s trial, are regularly issued at Walmarts across the US.
Lawson’s attorneys argued that charging their client with felony burglary was not appropriate because the store, rather than being a private residence or a warehouse, was open to the public. Assistant district public defender Jonathan Harwell, who has worked on similar cases and represents Lawson, believes that Walmart’s notifications are confusing. They are not consistently enforced: Lawson, for example, had entered Walmart locations countless times since receiving his notification. He had made returns, purchased goods, and even showed his ID to buy food using his EBT card, all without a problem. There aren’t any “no trespassing” signs around Walmart and no other indication that potential shoppers are being checked when they enter the store. And, most likely, they aren’t. The only people who have access to the notices are loss prevention staff.
The law in Tennessee is confusing when it comes to prosecuting shoplifters on felony charges, so the decision is left to local prosecutors. A case in another county similar to Lawson’s, State v Danielle Chandria Jensen, was dismissed when the judge decided the felony charge wasn’t appropriate. The appellate court that upheld the dismissal wrote scathingly that “the prosecutor had a strong desire to prosecute all individuals for burglary who had been arrested for shoplifting or theft who previously had been banned from the relevant store, a questionable goal when the harshness of a felony conviction and sentence for burglary is compared to the wrong committed, even for a repeat shoplifter.” The case was vacated by a higher court on a different issue, so the law remains unsettled.
Charme Allen, the Knox county district attorney, vowed after the Jensen appellate decision to keep up-charging shoplifters anyway. When I asked her office about the policy, deputy district attorney general Kyle Hixson responded via email: “The District Attorney’s Office prosecutes all business burglaries, whether the victim is a sole proprietor or a corporation, according to the provisions of the state burglary statute. Business burglary prosecutions of this type are not permitted for first-time offenders, as the defendant must be placed on the business’ no-trespass list due to prior criminal activity occurring on the victim’s property. These prosecutions have been a valuable tool to protect businesses from repeat offenders and to ensure that Knox County remains a safe place for businesses to operate.”
Walmart’s trespass notifications are part of the extension of private influence over parts of the criminal justice system that benefit third parties, like retailers. Walmart, in particular, has come under fire in the past for hiring too few employees (a cost-cutting measure), and then relying heavily on publicly funded local police to handle their shoplifting problem. I have previously written about Walmart’s “restorative justice” program, a private anti-shoplifting program in California that a superior court judge found to amount to illegal extortion. Around 2008, according to testimony from Lawson’s preliminary hearing, Walmart began implementing the trespass system, which allows them to keep records on who has shoplifted before.
Across the country, more state legislatures are increasing the penalties for multiple shoplifting offenses, a move that has been encouraged by the National Retail Federation, a trade group that lobbies on behalf of retail businesses. The Federation represents the interests of both small businesses – mom-and-pop shops – and big megastores like Walmart and Dollar Store. According to the trade publication Loss Prevention Media, “legislation has become a primary tool used in combating organized retail crime”.
Little reliable information is available about “organized retail crime” or about shoplifting in general. The only information out there comes from the National Retail Federation itself. In a 2014 study, the NRF said that shoplifting accounted for 38% of shrinkage (all lost inventory), or about $44bn in losses. A valuation by Forbes estimated that, by these numbers, Walmart loses under $2bn in shoplifting. The latest studies by the NRF have focused on what they call “Organized Retail Theft”, which an NRF study says affects “9 out of 10 retailers”, creates a loss of “$726,351 per every $1bn in sales”, and involves people “exhibiting much more aggression”.
In Tennessee, the push to make penalties for shoplifting harsher came from the Tennessee Retailer Association and the state representative from Knoxville, Jason Zachary, whose profile notes that he is a small business owner. Notes from the legislative sessions indicate that the provision, which would punish retail theft, gift-card fraud, and return fraud more harshly would “increase recurring local revenue by an amount exceeding $20,000 per year”. The retailer’s associations argue that shoplifting hurts local government by decreasing the sales taxes collected. The legislation also allows local law enforcement to keep the value of stolen gift cards as forfeiture money.
Other states are considering similar laws under the guise of preventing “organized retail crime”. For example, in California, the state retailer’s association has banded together with prosecutors and sheriffs to support a bill that would increase the penalties for shoplifting. These lobbyists argue that recent changes to California’s laws have made it difficult for law enforcement to detain and prosecute shoplifters, which is hurting their bottom line.
Lawson was convicted of burglary in March. He is still waiting for his sentencing hearing, but because of the burglary charge, his options for parole or alternative sentencing are limited. A representative from the Knox county DA’s office pointed to Lawson’s long list of felony charges, indicating that he is likely to receive the maximum sentence of 12 years in prison. Lawson’s attorneys in the public defender’s office have noted that these felony prosecutions have increased since the 2014 election of the current Knoxville district attorney, Charme Allen, who vowed to crack down on crime and has prosecuted a large number of cases under the state’s gang statute, which was recently struck down by the Tennessee court of criminal appeals for being too broad. In the meantime, it appears that the new law is being used not to prosecute dangerous retail gangs, but rather to penalize those who can least afford it, like Lawson.
Jessica Pishko is a writer in Dallas, Texas, who frequently covers incarceration and social justice issues. She used to practice corporate law, specializing in securities fraud, and representing death penalty clients and victims of domestic abuse pro bono. For more, click here.
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Kandace Edwards, a mom and former National Guardsman, was arrested for forging a $75 check. She was indigent and 7 months pregnant, and unable to pay bail to get released from jail. The Southern Poverty Law Center and American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit, claiming Randolph County's bail system unfairly disadvantages poor defendants. (Reckon)
In May, Kandace Edwards had hit rock bottom. She was 29 years old and homeless, the mother of two toddlers. They lived in rural Randolph County on the Alabama-Georgia line, staying with a variety of friends - some of whom did not have electricity or running water - since her eviction five months previously.
Edwards was also 7 months pregnant and had just lost her waitressing job, she said, after the restaurant let her go because her high-risk pregnancy prevented her from working in certain conditions. She had no income, relying on food stamps and Medicaid for support. Sheɽ granted temporary custody of her children to her mother-in-law.
Then Edwards was arrested for forging a $75 check. It was a felony charge, and bail was set at $7,500.
She was booked in the Randolph County jail. She didn't know anyone who had the money to post bond.
"I was sleeping on a mat on the floor and the mat was very thin," she said. "My particular mat, part of it was missing. Proper supplies weren't given" for a pregnant woman, she said.
Nearly half a million people are in jail across the country who have not been convicted of a crime, but who remain there solely because they lack the money to make bail. They're presumed innocent, but while in jail they stand to lose their jobs, their homes, even custody of their kids.
The tide is turning nationwide and across Alabama.
This is one area in the criminal justice in Alabama where Reckon by AL.com finds piecemeal reforms slowly moving across Alabama, county by county, city by city.
In Randolph County, trials are scheduled twice a year. If Edwards couldn't make bail, she would be stuck in jail for up to a month before getting a release hearing. If she wasn't released after that hearing, sheɽ face six months or more in jail before trial.
"If I had stayed in jail that long, my child would have gone to the foster care system," she said.
This article is the latest in a series by Reckon by Al.com For more from Reckon, follow us on Facebook.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Civil Rights Corps took up Edwards' case and filed a federal class action lawsuit, alleging the money bail system in Randolph County violates the constitutional rights of people like Edwards because it creates a "two-tiered" system of justice based on wealth.
"I think there is a growing recognition that money bail does not work to protect public safety or to ensure people appear in court," said Micah West, a staff attorney for the SPLC. "What money bail does is ensure people without financial resources remain in jail while those who have financial resources are released, regardless of their danger to the community or flight risk."
Edwards' case joins more than a dozen similar suits filed in multiple states in the past two years - including four in Alabama - alleging that the criminal justice system violates the constitution by keeping poor defendants in jail while they await trial .
Advocates argue that bail increases the likelihood that people show up for court.
Yet a few hours after the Edwards lawsuit was filed, a federal judge ordered that officials could not continue to jail her for her inability to pay bail. In his order, U.S. District Judge Keith Watkins said that there was "a substantial likelihood" that Randolph County's bail system violates Edwards' Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection under law.
More than 75 municipal courts in Alabama over the past few years have reformed their bail practices so that poor people charged with minor offenses don't have to remain in jail when they can't afford to post bond.
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- He was slammed facedown to the ground, handcuffed like the worst kind of felon and thrown onto the back of a golf cart.
Clayton Baker had come to Augusta National Golf Club to cross one item off his bucket list, but after a perfect day watching the final round of the Masters from a collapsible chair at Amen Corner, his trip had gone horribly wrong.
"You dirty piece of s---," one of his arresting officers spat at him. "You disrespected this national monument in Augusta."
"I hope you know you're going to jail for this," another cop sneered before moving him to the back of an unmarked police car.
Baker had figured that part out as he sat, windows rolled up tight so he couldn't escape, in that sweltering sedan. He didn't know, however, that getting locked up would be the least painful part of his ordeal.
He didn't know that he was about to see his bank account drained of about $20,000, that his mugshot would end up plastered on ESPN and on national websites, that his reputation would be so ravaged he wouldn't want to step foot out of his house in Oklahoma for weeks.
He didn't know that this terrible mistake -- this one transgression he didn't think anyone had noticed -- would nearly wreck his life.
His crime that day: He tried to steal some sand.
"The purest sand anywhere on earth"
The 44 bunkers at Augusta National -- 32 around the greens, 12 along the fairways -- are filled with a unique white sand found only in the Spruce Pine Mining District of western North Carolina.
"It is the purest silica sand that has ever been found anywhere on earth," said Vince Beiser, the man who, quite literally, wrote the book on sand. A more refined variation is used in the chips that make your iPhones and laptops work, but the quality at Augusta National is high enough that, from above, the bunkers look like patches of untouched snow.
In short: You can't buy it at the corner hardware store.
Baker wasn't thinking about any of that on April 8, 2012, as he walked up the 10th fairway. The final round was coming to an end with a dramatic finish for winner Bubba Watson. Baker had come to Augusta National with about a dozen friends and business associates, an act of kindness from a wealthy friend because Baker wasn't sure how much time he had left to enjoy moments like this.
"The previous fall, I had gotten really sick," he said. "They thought I had MS, but after all sorts of tests, it turns out I had Lyme Disease. But we didn't know that. We thought I was dying."
He had gone to the World Series in Arlington, Texas, with his son a few months earlier, and from their front-row seats, he was close enough to ask ESPN host Stuart Scott to scoop up some dirt from the infield as a special souvenir.
Baker, now 47, had an idea: What if he added to that collection from Augusta? The final group had made it through the 10th already the hole, as a result, was empty. Baker eyed the fairway bunker a few yards away.
"Hold my chair," he told his friend, Spencer Hoffman, before sliding under the gallery ropes and speed walking across the fairway. Hoffman, of course, thought he was nuts. But then Baker bent over, scooped out some sand with an empty beer cup, and slid back under the ropes on the other side.
Had he had gotten away with it?
Hoffman continued walking to the 10th tee box, which is just a short pitch from the stately clubhouse and putting green. Hoffman knew immediately that the heist had failed. Baker had three Augusta National guards around him. One of them, Hoffman said, slapped the cup of sand out of his hand.
"I'm thinking, 'I don't want to get in trouble because I'm holding his damn chair!'" Hoffman said.
The guards pushed Baker to the ground and radioed for backup. Still, he held out hope that he could sort this out. It was just a cup of sand, right? Then the deputies from the Richmond County Sheriff's Office arrived, and before he could protest again, he was cuffed and told to blow into a tube to check his blood-alcohol level.
He was transported to the county jail, where dozens of golf fans -- many in their Masters shirts and caps -- were sorting out citations for scalping tickets too close to the Augusta National gates. They were allowed to wait in a hallway.
"But not me," Baker said. "They took me in and they threw me in a jail with all the criminals. There was a big guy in the cell standing on the toilet, yelling at me, 'Tell them I need some (toilet) paper!'"
Baker was told he had one phone call. His wife, hearing that it was from a county jail, thought it was a wrong number and hung up the phone. He was booked for disorderly conduct, fingerprinted and photographed. His phone, his wallet and his Masters badge were all taken from him.
His friends were scheduled to leave that evening on a private jet. Would they even wait for him?
He wondered: How the hell was he going to get out of this mess?
Richmond County Sheriff
"When you cross that line in the sand . "
Walking through the gates at Augusta National is not just a trip into one golf's cathedrals. It feels like entering an azalea-lined maximum security prison.
Those sheriff deputies, with their round-brimmed hats, are everywhere. So are the private Securitas guards, in matching black coats and hats. Even the millionaire members, with their green jackets, patrol the grounds and enforce the rules.
And there are many, many rules.
No running. No cell phones. No sitting in designated standing areas. No standing in designated sitting areas. No chairs with arms. No hats worn backward. No flags or signs or coolers or radios or yelling nonsense like "you da man!" The list goes on and on.
Real disruptions, however, are rare. A review of a decade's worth of newspaper accounts after the tournament reveal only a few noteworthy arrests. In 2010, a Canadian man took off his shirt and jumped into the pond on the 16th hole (he said he did not know that swimming was illegal). In 2015, three men tried and failed to scale a fence to get onto the course.
"We're good people. We are not looking to arrest anybody," Capt. Scott Gay of the county sheriff's department insisted. "However, when you cross that line in the sand … no pun intended."
Gay was the law enforcement source quoted in the initial news reports on Baker's arrest, and the details, Baker and Hoffman said, did not match the actual incident. Baker was portrayed as a rowdy drunk who led police "on a short foot chase" when his blood-alcohol level was below the legal limit for a DUI.
And a foot chase? "All the reports about him running around like crazy are bull----," Hoffman said, but that hardly mattered.
The Forgotten Desire can be found at the Underground Waterway in the area where Sophia is first encountered during the main story. Check the series of sluice gates and the Forgotten Desire will be at the one closest to the south.
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In many parts of America, like Corinth, Miss., judges are locking up defendants who can’t pay — sometimes for months at a time.
Brian Howell at the home of his girlfriend, Jessica Woods, in Corinth. Howell was incarcerated for $1,250 in fines and court costs for three unpaid traffic tickets. Credit. Jessica Dimmock/VII, for The New York Times
O n a muggy afternoon in October 2017, Jamie Tillman walked into the public library in Corinth, Miss., and slumped down at one of the computers on the ground floor. In recent years, Tillman, who is slight and freckled, with reddish blond hair that she often wears piled atop her head, had been drifting from her hometown, Nashville — first to southern Tennessee, to be with a boyfriend and their infant son, and then, after she and the boyfriend split, across the state border to Corinth to look for work. The town, to Tillman, represented a chance for a turnaround. If she was able to get a part-time job at a big-box store, she could put a deposit on a rental apartment and see a psychiatrist for what she suspected was bipolar disorder. She could take steps toward regaining custody of her son from her boyfriend’s mother. “I needed to support myself,” she told me recently. But potential employers weren’t calling her back, and Tillman was exhausted. In the hushed calm of the library, she closed her eyes and fell asleep.
When she awoke, a pair of uniformed police officers were standing over her. “I was terrified,” she recalled. “I couldn’t figure out what was happening.” (Library patrons had complained about her behavior.) Ignoring Tillman’s protests that she wasn’t drunk — she was just scared and tired, she remembers saying — the officers handcuffed her wrists behind her back and took her to the jail in Corinth to await a hearing on a misdemeanor charge of public intoxication. Five days later, clad in an orange jumpsuit, her wrists again cuffed, Tillman found herself sitting in the gallery of the local courthouse, staring up at the municipal judge, John C. Ross.
Tillman did her best to stay calm. She had been arrested on misdemeanor charges before — most recently for drug possession — and in her experience, the court either provided defendants with a public defender or gave them the option to apply for a cash bond and return later for a second hearing. “But there was no lawyer in this courtroom,” Tillman says. “There was no one to help me.” Instead, one after another, the defendants were summoned to the bench to enter their pleas and exchange a few terse words with Ross, a white-haired, pink-cheeked Corinth native who dismissed most of them with the same four words: “Good luck to you.” Many of the defendants were being led back out the way they came, in the direction of the jail.
Around 11 a.m., the judge read Tillman’s name. She stood. “Ms. Tillman, you’re here on a public drunk charge,” Ross said. “Do you admit that charge or deny it?”
Tillman told me that she thought she had no choice but to plead guilty — it was unlikely, she believed, that the judge would take her word over that of the arresting officers. “I admit, your honor,” she said. “I just want to get me out of here as soon as possible.” Under Mississippi state law, public intoxication is punishable by a $100 fine or up to 30 days in jail. Ross opted for the maximum fine. Tillman began to cry.
The Federal Reserve Board has estimated that 40 percent of Americans don’t have enough money in their bank accounts to cover an emergency expense of $400. Tillman didn’t even have $10. She couldn’t call her family for help. She was estranged from her father and from her mother, who had custody of Tillman’s two young daughters from a previous relationship.
“I can’t — ” Tillman stammered to Ross. “I can’t — ”
Ross explained the system in his court: For every day a defendant stayed in the Alcorn County jail, $25 was knocked off his or her fine. Tillman had been locked up for five days as she awaited her hearing, meaning she had accumulated a credit of $125 toward the overall fine of $255. (The extra $155 was a processing fee.) Her balance on the fine was now $130. Was Tillman able to produce that or call someone who could?
“I can’t,” Tillman responded, so softly that the court recorder entered her response as “inaudible.” She tried to summon something more coherent, but it was too late: The bailiff was tugging at her sleeve. She would be returned to the jail until Oct. 14, she was informed, at which point Ross would consider the fine paid and the matter settled.
That night, Tillman says, she conducted an informal poll of the 20 or so women in her pod at the Alcorn County jail. A majority, she says, were incarcerated for the same reason she was: an inability to pay a fine. Some had been languishing in jail for weeks. The inmates even had a phrase for it: “sitting it out.” Tillman’s face crumpled. “I thought, Because we’re poor, because we’re of a lower class, we aren’t allowed real freedom,” she recalled. “And it was the worst feeling in the world.”
No government agency comprehensively tracks the extent of criminal-justice debt owed by poor defendants, but experts estimate that those fines and fees total tens of billions of dollars. That number is likely to grow in coming years, and significantly: National Public Radio, in a survey conducted with the Brennan Center for Justice and the National Center for State Courts, found that 48 states increased their civil and criminal court fees from 2010 to 2014. And because wealthy and middle-class Americans can typically afford either the initial fee or the services of an attorney, it will be the poor who shoulder the bulk of the burden.
“You think about what we want to define us as Americans: equal opportunity, equal protection under the law,” Mitali Nagrecha, the director of Harvard’s National Criminal Justice Debt Initiative, told me. “But what we’re seeing in these situations is that not only are the poor in the United States treated differently than people with means, but that the courts are actually aggravating and perpetuating poverty.”
Why they do so is in part a matter of economic reality: In areas hit by recession or falling tax revenue, fines and fees help pay the bills. (The costs of housing and feeding inmates can be subsidized by the state.) As the Fines and Fees Justice Center, an advocacy organization based in New York, has documented, financial penalties on the poor are now a leading source of revenue for municipalities around the country. In Alabama, for example, the Southern Poverty Law Center took up the case of a woman who was jailed for missing a court date related to an unpaid utility bill. In Oregon, courts have issued hefty fines to the parents of truant schoolchildren. Many counties around the country engage in civil forfeiture, the seizure of vehicles and cash from people suspected (but not necessarily proven in court) of having broken the law. In Louisiana, pretrial diversion laws empower the police to offer traffic offenders a choice: Pay up quickly, and the ticket won’t go on your record fight the ticket in court, and you’ll face additional fees.
“What we’ve seen in our research is that the mechanisms vary, depending on the region,” says Joanna Weiss, co-director of the Fines and Fees Justice Center. “But they have one thing in common: They use the justice system to wring revenue out of the poorest Americans — the people who can afford it the least.” Aside from taxes, she says, “criminal-justice debt is now a de facto way of funding a lot of American cities.”
The jailing of poor defendants who cannot pay fines — a particularly insidious version of this revenue machine — has been ruled unconstitutional since a trio of Supreme Court cases spanning the 1970s and early 1980s. The first, Williams v. Illinois, involved a petty thief who was forced to remain in prison to pay off a fine, even after he had served his term. The second, Tate v. Short, hinged on a man in Texas named Preston Tate, who was assessed $425 in fines for several traffic violations. Because Tate couldn’t make the payments, a judge sentenced him to 85 days in jail — the amount of time it would take him, at a rate of $5 a day, to pay his entire fine. Tate took his case to the Supreme Court, which found that the punishment violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which requires that the government not discriminate on criteria like race or background. The court found that Tate was imprisoned “solely because of his indigency.”
In a majority opinion for an analogous case from 1983, Bearden v. Georgia, in which a man received probation and a fine when he pleaded guilty to burglary and theft, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor called it “fundamentally unfair” to send him to prison for nonpayment without “considering whether adequate alternative methods of punish[ment]” — like community service or a payment plan — were available. To do otherwise was to deprive a person of his freedom simply because he happened to be poor.
Still, decades after those cases were decided, the practice of jailing people who cannot pay persists, not least because Supreme Court decisions do not always make their way to local courts. “Precedent is one thing,” says Alec Karakatsanis, executive director of Civil Rights Corps, a Washington-based nonprofit. “The way a law is written is one thing. The way a law is actually experienced by poor people and people of color is another.”
Moreover, Karakatsanis argues, jailing poor defendants has proved to be an effective way of raising money. By threatening a defendant with incarceration, a judge is often able to extract cash from a person’s family that might otherwise be difficult to touch. “A typical creditor,” he says, “can’t put you in a steel cage if you can’t come up with the money.”
In 2010, the American Civil Liberties Union detailed evidence of what it calls “modern-day ‘debtors’ prisons’ ” — essentially, courts operating in the same way as Judge Ross’s in Corinth — in Georgia, Michigan, Louisiana, Ohio and Washington State. “If you spent a few weeks driving from coast to coast, you might not find similar policies in place in every single county,” Sam Brooke, the deputy legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s economic-justice program, told me. “But every other county? Probably. This is a massive problem, and it’s not confined to the South. It’s national.”
In 2014, in the wake of the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., President Barack Obama’s Justice Department opened two investigations into policing in the city. Among the findings, released the following spring, was evidence that the city had been routinely jailing residents for failure to pay criminal-justice-related debt and that “the court’s practices impose unnecessary harm, overwhelmingly on African-American individuals.” In 2016, the Justice Department issued what is known as a “dear colleague” letter, reminding courts that they are obligated to take into consideration a defendant’s financial standing before levying fines. Although not legally binding, the letter was met with approval from many civil rights activists, as was the willingness of states including New Hampshire and Illinois to proactively train judges and clerks on the pertinent legal precedents.
The “dear colleague” letter, along with two dozen others, has since been rescinded by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who argued that his predecessors overstepped their bounds and that it should be left to Congress to arrive at solutions through legislation. “Last month, I ended the longstanding abuse of issuing rules by simply publishing a letter or posting a web page,” Sessions said in a statement in December 2017. Any guidance, he went on, that “improperly goes beyond what is provided for in statutes or regulation should not be given effect.”
But Congress has been slow to act — no current major bill addresses the jailing of poor defendants. “At this point, I’m convinced that sunlight — a lot of it — is going to have to be the solution,” Brooke told me.
In recent years, the Southern Poverty Law Center and other organizations, including the A.C.L.U. and Karakatsanis’s Civil Rights Corps, have been filing class-action lawsuits against dozens of courts across the South and Midwest and West, arguing that local courts, in jailing indigent defendants, are violating the Supreme Court rulings laid down in Williams, Tate and Bearden. The lawsuits work: As a settlement is negotiated, a judge typically agrees to stop jailing new inmates for unpaid fines or fees. “No one wants to admit they’ve knowingly acted in this manner,” says Brooke, who partnered with Karakatsanis on lawsuits in Alabama and filed several elsewhere in the South. “So they tend to settle quickly.” The trouble is locating the offending courts.
In January 2017, two S.P.L.C. staff members, Micah West, a senior staff attorney, and Sara Wood, a senior paralegal, drove from the organization’s headquarters in Montgomery, Ala., to Southern Mississippi, to look into claims that the state was suspending — without due process — the licenses of thousands of residents for failure to pay overdue traffic tickets. For a couple of days, West and Wood made visits to various D.M.V.s and court offices. But even when they could get someone to talk to them, the clerk was sometimes unable or unwilling to share any details of individual suspensions. “Eventually, I was like, ‘All right, let’s save ourselves some time,’ ” West recalled. “So we got out a map, and we started calling every place on it.” One morning, his finger landed on the city of Corinth.
A Municipal Court staff member picked up on the third ring. “Could you answer a question for me?” West asked the woman. “I’m wondering what would happen if I was unable to pay a speeding ticket. Would I lose my driving license?”
“What do you mean?” she responded. And then: “You’d go to jail.”
Corinth occupies an important place in Mississippi history. During the Civil War, the South lost two bloody battles trying to defend the rail lines that bisected the city, which Confederate leaders regarded as second only to Richmond, their capital, in terms of strategic importance. Today the rails remain, as do the battlefield and a handful of grand antebellum homes, but driving around the area, you get a sense that the place has been hollowed out. As of 2016, a quarter of the 14,600 residents, 70 percent of whom are white, lived at or below the federal poverty line (about $12,000 in annual income for an individual).
Drug use is endemic — primarily opioids and methamphetamine. So, too, are the hallmarks of a specific kind of rural, Southern poverty: stray dogs in the streets, sun-blasted trailers that seem to be sinking back into the earth, yards occupied by rusting school buses and old sedans. “You grow up around here, and you have two options,” one resident told me. “You can either get the hell out, go on up to Tupelo or wherever. Or you stay and try to figure out a way to live without having the cops on you all the time. Which sure ain’t easy.”
Corinth’s infrastructure runs so leanly as to be almost invisible: There are no public buses, and Alcorn County recently announced that it would stop funding the local railroad museum. Tax rates in Corinth have dropped slightly in recent years, while the percentage of revenue generated by criminal-justice-related debt has grown. According to the annual audit submitted by Corinth to the state, in fiscal year 2017, the year Jamie Tillman was arrested for public intoxication, general fund revenues for the city were just $10.8 million. Total revenue for the year was $20.3 million, half of which came from taxes close to $7 million came from “intergovernmental revenue,” or grants and funds from the state and federal authorities. And approximately $623,000 came from what the city defines as “fines and forfeitures.”
The Corinth city clerk declined to answer questions about the breakdown of the budget or how the revenue from fines compares with those of neighboring towns, referring questions to the city attorney, Wendell Trapp, who did not respond to emails seeking comment. But a report completed in 2017 by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights offers some answers. Combing Census Bureau data and city audit documents, the commission noted that of nearly 4,600 American municipalities with populations above 5,000, the median received less than 1 percent of their revenue from fines and fees. But a sizable number of cities, like Doraville, Ga., or Saint Ann, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis, have reported fines-and-fees revenue amounting to 10 percent or more of total municipal income.
Corinth’s revenue from fines in 2017 was 5.7 percent of its general fund revenues, putting it — if not quite at the Saint Ann level — at the high end when compared with the municipalities in the Commission on Civil Rights’s report. When I sent Joanna Weiss, of the Fines and Fees Justice Center, a copy of the 2017 Corinth audit, she noted that this would be dismaying enough in itself. “But you can also see,” she added, “that the biggest expenditure, by far, for the city of Corinth is public safety” — including court and police services, or the very people extracting the fines.
In 2017, Micah West and Sara Wood of the S.P.L.C. drove to Corinth to open an investigation into the Municipal Court, with an eye toward later filing a lawsuit — the most effective way, they believed, to halt Judge John C. Ross’s jailing of low-income defendants. During court sessions, they would often walk down the hall to the clerk’s office, where defendants were permitted to use a landline phone to make a final plea for the cash that would set them free. The space amounted to an earthly purgatory: Secure the money, and you were saved. Fail, and you’d be sent to jail. “All around us, people would be crying or yelling, getting more and more desperate,” Wood recalled.
That October, she watched a 59-year-old man named Kenneth Lindsey enter the office, his lean arms hanging lank by his side, his face gaunt and pale. Lindsey had been in court for driving with an expired registration, but he hadn’t been able to afford the fines: He was suffering from hepatitis C and liver cancer, and he had spent the very last of his savings on travel to Tupelo for a round of chemotherapy. Until his next state disability check arrived, he was broke. “Can you help?” Lindsey whispered into the phone.
Photos of the cookies (left) have drawn widespread praise since Ms Head (right) uploaded them to Instagram on March 25
The dough should be chilled and left to sit for 30 minutes before being rolled, cut into balls and baked in the oven at 160 degrees Celsius for eight to 10 minutes.
Ms Head said the cookies should look puffy when they come out of the oven, but will flatten and crinkle once cooled.
Photos and videos of the cookies, which have amassed more than 16,500 'likes' since they were uploaded online on Thursday morning, have drawn dozens of delighted responses.
One woman tagged her friend and asked: 'When are we making these?'
A second said 'think these might be worth a go' while a third added: 'Adding these to the baking list.'
115g unsalted butter, melted
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
120g mini eggs, whole and broken
100g chocolate chips, white and milk
1. Melt 115 grams of unsalted butter and mix it with 150 grams of light brown sugar and 115 grams of granulated sugar, whisking the mixture until it forms into a paste.
2. Crack one large egg and a teaspoon vanilla extract on top and whisk until smooth.
3. Next, Ms Head sieve in 150 grams of flour, half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda and half a teaspoon of salt, slowly folding until it forms a dough.
4. Once thickened, stir in 120 grams of mini eggs, a mixture of whole and broken, and 100 grams of milk and white chocolate chips.
5. The dough should be chilled and left to sit for 30 minutes before being rolled, cut into balls and baked in the oven at 160 degrees Celsius for eight to 10 minutes.