Is it really “fair and balanced”? I don’t mean the ridiculous Fox TV channel, whose right-wing ranters mock their own PR slogan — but, rather, a network that actually matters in our society: America’s legal system.
To check the balance of the scales of justice, look at how the system treats the very rich — and the poor. As we’ve seen, Wall Street barons have grossly fattened themselves by running frauds and scams that wreaked trillions of dollars in damages to working families, homeowners and taxpayers — yet not a single one of them has been indicted or even seriously pursued by the law. More recently, such corporate profiteers as GlaxoSmithKline have paid billions of dollars in fines for serious criminal acts, but the executive criminals who pulled these capers have skated free without ever being charged.
Now, meet Gina Ray, who is neither a CEO nor a serious offender, but a hard-hit, low-income American. She’s one of hundreds who’re being jailed, not by the police, but by a growing network of corporate fee-chasers empowered by state legislatures to fine and imprison poor people who’ve committed minor infractions. Ms. Ray, an unemployed 31-year-old in rural Alabama, got caught up in this privatized probation system over a speeding ticket. Her problem mushroomed, and she was unable to pay, so the corporatized legal system locked her up and hit her with company fees for each of the 40 days she was behind bars. Her original $179 ticket has now surpassed $3,000. She was not told that she has a right to a court-appointed lawyer or offered any alternatives to more fines and jail. “We hear a lot of ‘I can’t pay the fee,’” says one of the private prosecutors, adding chillingly that, “It is not our job to figure that out.”
For more information, contact the Southern Center For Human Rights: www.schr.org.
This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.