Depending on the jurisdiction, a ticket for failing to signal a lane change—the pretext for Sandra Bland’s tragic traffic stop—will cost you around $66. But the State tacks on $103 in court costs and a host of fees, some bordering on Kafkaesque. Texas will charge you a public defender fee, even though courts refuse to appoint a public defender for traffic ticket cases. If your fine is already too expensive to afford, Texas charges a fee to put you on a payment plan. You’ll even pay an “administrative fee” for the privilege of handing money over to the court. For people who are too poor to pay their tickets, that $66 fine can grow to over $500.
Jailing people for debt is both unjust and profoundly counterproductive. Not only does it deprive people of their liberty and separate them from their children and families, it also renders them incapable of paying off their fines, and costs the taxpayer (by conservative estimates) $51 per person per day of incarceration. It’s in everyone’s best interests to keep Texans with their families and out of jail.
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