David Benoit is a reporter for the Wall Street Journal and friend of the progressive criminal justice movement. David reached out to me to discuss if members of our community experience issues with banks, including closure of accounts without explanation. He would like to hear about your experiences. David can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you! – Jeff
Court debts and lack of credit limit abilities to get driver’s licenses, find homes and get meaningful work
In 2013, Martize Tolbert walked out of prison and into a financial hole.
Mr. Tolbert was arrested on drug and weapon charges as a teenager, then bounced in and out of jail for more than a dozen years. When he was released for the last time, he owed some $12,000 in court fines and fees.
Four years later, he was working at a Charlottesville, Va., Jiffy Lube, making $9 an hour, barely enough for rent, food and supporting his son. The debt barred him from getting a driver’s license, but, with or without one, he had to drive. A Black man, he got pulled over often, he said, leading to more tickets, bigger for the lack of a license. The interest was compounding too. He tried to work out payment plans, but the total was only growing.
“It was all uphill just trying to get everything back in line from the mess I had created for myself,” said Mr. Tolbert, 40. “Everything was a struggle.”
Each year, more than 600,000 people deemed to have paid their debts to society are released from U.S. prisons, but the financial consequences can follow them long after. It can be hard for them to get checking accounts and nearly impossible to get loans. Some get out only to discover their identities were stolen. Many, like Mr. Tolbert, are deep in debt.
That all makes it hard for ex-inmates to get jobs, start businesses or find housing. In Florida and other states, court debts cost the right to vote. The problems trap all sorts of criminals, from small drug offenders to white-collar swindlers.
For Black men, who are nearly six times more likely than white men to be in prison, the financial aftermath is just another byproduct of a justice system already weighted against them. A 2019 report from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights found people of color are disproportionately arrested for nonviolent crimes like loitering and disorderly conduct, and are generally sentenced more harshly, “which amplifies the impact of collateral consequences.”
Increasing evidence shows these repercussions push some people back into crime…