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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2017 - 2018 Regular Session


Posted: March 29, 2018 12:08 PM
From: Senator Guy Reschenthaler
To: All Senate members
Subject: Training for Judiciary to Identify Indigent Individuals and Prevent ‘Debtor’s Prisons’
In the near future, I plan on introducing legislation that will require training for the minor judiciary to better identify indigent individuals unable to pay court costs, fines, and fees.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to jail defendants or extend their prison terms for failure to pay fines and court costs if they are too poor to afford those costs. District judges are only supposed to jail defendants who can afford to pay but willfully choose not to.

However, studies have shown that there is a significant number of Pennsylvanians imprisoned each year for being unable to pay court costs and fines. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently published an article on this issue, referring to it as a resurgence of debtors’ prisons. They found that “the system for meting out jail stays over unpaid court fines is wildly inconsistent among the state’s 67 counties and varies from one district judge to another.”

In order to adequately address this problem, we need to better equip our judiciary with the tools and training needed to better distinguish between individuals willfully refusing to pay fines and costs and those who are simply unable to do so.

For more information, including data on Allegheny County and on others throughout the Commonwealth, I have provided a link to the article recently published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: https://newsinteractive.post-gazette.com/blog/modern-day-debtors-prisons-lead-to-hundreds-jailed-each-year-in-pa-for-inability-to-pay-court-costs/

With this legislation, along with Senator Greenleaf’s Senate Bill 1036, we will provide the judiciary with the tools they need to prevent this unjust practice from continuing in the future.

I hope you will join me in co-sponsoring this important legislation. Please contact Elise Argall in my office with any questions at 717-787-5839.

Introduced as SB1126