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.”