by Adam Serwer
Missouri defense attorney Justin Carver has seen it a million times. One of his clients, an 18-year-old parolee, was about to be sent back to prison because he was late paying restitution and “user fees” related to property-damage and peace-disturbance charges. The client showed up at court with $200, more than enough to pay off his $118 debt, in the hopes he could convince the judge to let him stay out and graduate from high school. The judge said he’d take the money, but Carver’s client would still have to spend 20 days in jail. Since he wouldn’t be able to graduate anyway, Carver’s client pocketed the $200 and spent two months in jail. Given that one Missouri county-prison administration estimated the cost per day of housing a prisoner at $64, it’s more than likely that stay cost the state several times the amount Carver’s client owed.
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