When you’re convicted of a crime in America, it’s not just prison time you may face—there are fines, fees, and other cash penalties, too. And when you get out, they’ll be waiting. Plus interest.
The plight of “Kathie” symbolizes everything that’s wrong with this system, one that heaps a debt burden onto ex-convicts who don’t have the means to pay. Kathie (a pseudonym) was a 49-year-old ex-convict at the time University of Washington sociologist Alexes Harris interviewed her in 2009. She was sharing a three-bedroom home with three of her four children, her estranged husband, and his father.
Kathie left prison owing $11,000, but the sum had grown to $20,000 because of collection surcharges, private collection fees, and a 12 percent interest rate. She had a low-paying job that didn’t leave her a prayer of paying off the whole sum. “It seems like one of those challenges that are insurmountable,” she told Harris. “It’s like a paraplegic trying to climb Mount Everest.”
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(Originally posted by Bloomberg News & Peter Coy.)