Prison and Debt


The New York Times notes in an editorial today that convicted felons are often saddled with debts from state-mandated legal fees and treatment programs that they can’t possibly repay when they leave prison. And very often, until they repay them, they aren’t allowed to vote:

Last week, an article by The Times’s Adam Liptak introduced us to a disabled woman named Beverly Dubois who lost the right to vote because she could not pay about $1,600 of charges that were assessed in connection with her marijuana conviction. The debt is growing rapidly because of the interest charged by the state. Ms. Dubois, who served nine months in jail, has paid her debt to society. But until she settles the one to the state, she is stripped of her rights as a citizen. Disabled in a car accident, she can send in only $10 per month. At that rate, she is likely to die before paying off the debt.

All that for a “marijuana conviction,” already the most asinine charge on the book. Fortunately the federal government spends about $4 billion a year to make sure Ms. Dubois and other pot-smokers have their lives destroyed before they cause any “trouble.”

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

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Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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