ACLU Claims Jail For Benton County Unpaid Fines ‘Unconstitutional’
Group claims in suit, the county is trying to "squeeze blood from a turnip." However, apparently the ACLU hasn't seen the long list of offenders who never pay a dime for their crimes, often costing the county thousands of dollars.
Filed in Yakima County, the federal suit seeks to force Benton County to find a new way to collect fines from court cases that are levied against offenders. The ACLU claims the county is run like a modern-day version of a debtor's prison.
Routinely, offenders who fail to pay court-mandated fines are either jailed, or given the opportunity to work off their fines by performing a variety of manual labor jobs around the county, under supervision. Often, you see these county work crews picking up trash alongside roads or helping with other projects.
The ACLU didn't specifically state WHAT kind of new system they think would work. The suit also contained examples of three defendants who reportedly suffered hardships due to incarceration for lack of paying fines.
However, critics dismiss the suit as grandstanding. They say defendants who want to pay their fines and do right by their sentence are given ample opportunity to set up payment plans or make arrangements based upon their financial situations. However, they must notify or work with the county to do so. They say the county is willing to work with defendants, regardless of how little money or employment they have.
These critics also say the vast majority of those jailed or put on work crews for failure to pay their fines are done so because they didn't adhere to payment plans, or ignored them altogether. Those who communicate with the county about financial issues usually don't up in these situations.
They also say the jail or labor crews act as a deterrent to some who think twice before committing a crime. They point out the purpose of jail is to convince a person not to disobey laws. It's not a country club, and the defendants - while of course being treated humanely - are not there to be pandered to.