The Cost of Incarceration

orange is the new black

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration” was just published at The Atlantic. While we take some time this week to read, re-read, and digest the piece, here are two shorter stories about the cost of incarceration:

First, of course, John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight segment about the cost of that “free public defender” included as part of our Miranda Rights. I had no idea the public defender wasn’t actually free. Some municipalities require people to pay $50-200 in “public defender application fees,” and that’s just the beginning. (Read Al Jazeera America for a longer explanation of public defender application fees.)

As Oliver notes, first you get stuck with the public defender application fee, and then you are required to pay additional costs if you are found guilty. (Over 90 percent of people in these situations take guilty pleas, for a variety of reasons often unrelated to actual guilt.) If you can’t pay those costs, you get arrested for contempt of court—which comes with even more fees.

What happens if you become incarcerated? ThinkProgress just released a summary of costs that your family can expect to pay while you are in jail:


As ThinkProgress writes:

More than two-thirds of respondents said their family’s financial stability was damaged when a member was incarcerated. Two out of three families had trouble meeting basic needs thanks to their loved one’s conviction and incarceration, including about half who struggled to afford food and another 48 percent who had trouble paying for housing.

So that’s what we can start thinking about, as we read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ examination of mass incarceration this week.



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