The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled on Thursday, Feb. 6, to hear SB237, a bill sponsored by Sen. Ronald Caldwell (R-Wynne) and co-sponsored by a handful of other Republican legislators that would double the amount of the jail booking and administration fee imposed on all those convicted of or receiving a deferred sentence on any felony or a class A misdemeanor from $20 to $40. Ten percent of this money goes to the “Law Enforcement Training Fund” administered by the Arkansas Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Training. The remainder goes to the local jails.

Twenty dollars may not seem like much to some, but when combined with hundreds or thousands of dollars in court costs and fines, it adds up. Especially when you consider that each court charges a $10 collection fee per month for any unpaid balance. For example, if someone owes fines to four different courts, that is $40 per month, almost $500 per year, owed before the original balance is even touched. In my days as a public defender, I commonly had clients who struggled for years to pay their court-ordered fines. Money that could have gone to hire an attorney, to housing, for childcare, or a more reliable vehicle to help get to work instead went straight into the court coffers. And if they don’t pay, they are likely to be arrested and face even more fines and costs. Funding state and local services on the backs of the poor is no way to get ahead and just doesn’t make sense.

A judge does have the discretion to give credit for each day spent in jail for nonpayment. However, despite rising court costs and fees, the dollar amount he or she may credit against an defendant’s fines has held steady at $40 per day for the past 16 years. Funny how that works.