President Obama's Department of Justice, under the leadership of Attorney General Loretta Lynch, has been a diligent ally in the fight against the criminalization of poverty.
Lynch underlined those efforts during a speech in mid-November to judges, lawyers, and law clerks, at the Eighth Annual Judge Thomas A. Flannery Lecture. She explained:
"The fact is that when we treat defendants as cash registers, rather than citizens, we do severe damage to the credibility of our institutions. We stain the sanctity of our laws. And we only tighten the shackles of those struggling to break the chains of poverty."
Attorney General Lynch went on to detail many of the efforts that her department had worked on over the past few years:
"Under the Obama Administration, the Department of Justice has taken a number of actions based on our firm belief that the goal of law enforcement is to ensure public safety – not to shore up a shrinking tax base. For example, our investigation of the municipal government of Ferguson, Missouri, found widespread use of excessive fines and fees. The city imposed steep fines for a range of minor offenses, including $302 for jaywalking and $531 for untended lawns. Before our investigation, these penalties – along with a variety of court fees – constituted a growing portion of the city’s budget – from almost $1.4 million in 2010 to a projected $3.1 million last year. That’s a rise from more than 10 percent of the city’s budget in 2010 to more than 23 percent just five years later. After completing our investigation, we reached a consent decree with the city that included an amnesty program for those with open charges and pending debts that were unfairly imposed. As of August, this program has dismissed more than 32,000 court cases and canceled more than $1.5 million in fines, a significant step towards restoring trust in a city where many citizens’ faith in their government has been sorely tested. "
Read the Attorney General's remarks in their entirety here.