The justice system provides no justice any longer when we have wealthy violent criminals who admit their guilt and go free, while other “offenders” with hardly any wealth that end up imprisoned for most of their life. Sometimes, people who have committed no crime at all end up sitting behind bars, because without money, in a system built primarily around money, who will defend the broke?
A “modern-day debtors prison” is what Judge Milas “Butch” Hale from Sherwood from Sherwood, Arkansas has been recently accused of running. This cruel judge actually placed a 44-year-old pancreatic cancer patient in jail for 90 days.
President and Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Kristen Clarke said of sentencing people like this to jail:
“People are doomed to failure when they appear before the court, and most significantly trapped in this never-ending cycle of expanding debt. With the resurgence of debtors’ prisons, we will continue to see people cycle in and out of jails and prisons across our country merely because of their inability to pay fines and fees tied to low-level, nonviolent offenses.”
Lee Robertson, the man with pancreatic cancer, began his troubles in 2009 when he received his diagnoses and started his first round of chemo. Due to illness, he lost his job, and his income was eliminated. As it is with anyone, losing his income also destroyed his ability to take care of himself financially, and because of this, he wrote 11 bad checks to various stores for small amounts between $5-$41.
After being arrested seven times, Robertson landed himself in Hale’s courtroom, where he was told by Judge Hale that he owed $3,054.51 in court fines and restitution. Robertson’s cancer had made it to where he was unable to pay the fines and checks as he had lost all source of income.
Hale has received mass scrutiny due to how he manages the “hot checks division” in his court. He has even been under recent investigation because of the questionable practices that take place in his court.
The lawsuit that he is involved in outlines that he allows no friends or family to accompany the defendant and the defendant must sign a form that waives their right to an attorney. By doing so, the defendant is left vulnerable because they are unable to defend themselves, or argue in their own favor.
Further into the suit, it is claimed that the court acts in a way that mimics an extension of a collection agency, in essence collecting money from those unable to afford to pay for food, let alone bills that continue to accrue over time. The money that he forces these impoverished citizens to pay merely increases the city’s budget (provides bonuses to the judge, I’m sure) With each bad check, they charge $400 in fines, and fees, without including the amount due for restitution for each check.
“This is a broken court system that disregards due process rights at every turn,” Clarke added.
We can only hope that the investigation will lead to justice being served to this judge and any others who are involved in a scheme that turns impoverished and sick men into criminals. The people who have had their lives torn to shreds for the benefit of this backward judge deserve much better than this, and we hope that they are allowed the benefit of seeing this system returned to moral standing. We must take information from stories like this, and make sure that we hold those in power accountable. It is possible to restore what is just, what is moral, and what is right, but it starts with the people.