While rapists that admitted to their crimes are getting no jail time and no convictions, likely because they or their parents are wealthy, those that aren’t as financially well-endowed are being thrown into jail for the saddest reasons. Judge Milas “Butch” Hale from Sherwood, Arkansas has been accused of running a “modern-day debtor’s prison” after he recently sentenced a 44-year-old man with pancreatic cancer to 90 days in jail.
President and Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Kristen Clarke said of sentencing people like this to jail:
“People are doomed for failure when they appear before the court, and most significantly trapped in this never-ending cycle of expanding debt. With the resurgence of debtors’ prisons, we will continue to see people cycle in and out of jails and prisons across our country merely because of their inability to pay fines and fees tied to low-level, nonviolent offenses.” Lee Robertson, the man with pancreatic cancer, first ran into trouble in 2009 when he was diagnosed and began his first round of chemotherapy. His sickness forced him to stop working, which eliminated his source of income and made it impossible for him to sustain himself. In the course of two weeks, Robertson wrote 11 checks to stores for small amounts ranging from $5 to $41 that all bounced. After six years and seven arrests, Robertson ended up in Hale’s courtroom, where Hale said that the cancer patient owed the court $3,054.51 in fees and restitution. Robertson had been unable to pay these fines and checks because his pancreatic cancer has prevented him from returning to work.
Hale has come under loads of scrutiny for the way he runs the “hot checks division,” which is a court that assesses cases dealing with bad checks. The judge is now under investigation for the questionable practices he employs in his court. The lawsuit outlines the lucrative system used, in which no family or friends are allowed to accompany the defendant and the defendant must sign a form that waives the right to an attorney. This leaves those being prosecuted completely vulnerable and unable to properly defend themselves or make an argument in their favor.
The suit claims that the court acts as an extension of a collections agency, essentially collecting money from those living in poverty in order to contribute more money to the city’s budget every year. Each overdrawn check can bring in $400 in fines and fees, not including the restitution to pay back the amount of the check.
“This is a broken court system that disregards due process rights at every turn,” Clarke added.