Community group opposes Pine Bluff court debt collection proposal

In tough times, the Pine Bluff City Council is considering a proposal to sic a private debt collection agency on people with unpaid fines and fees.

The Arkansas Community Organizations has written the mayor and city council to ask them reject the proposal.

One reason is added economic hardships on people already struggling during the pandemic.  The letter also says any estimate of a windfall for the city is likely overestimated.

As an alternative, the group urges the city district court to develop a tool to assess a person’s ability to pay a fine or fee and to forgive portions of money owed.

They’ve included a report on a study of an effort to reduce debt in Southern households. Court costs are one of the four biggest contributors (and, until some recent progress, too many courts have reinforced the cycle of poverty by jailing people for failure to pay fines and for cascading charges that could never be paid off.)

With an eviction crisis looming and the end of added federal unemployment benefits, a push to collect overdue fines is a trifecta of hardships for many people.

Article by Max Brantley