By Clay

Marshalsea cont'd:  "The Georgia Supreme Court ruled that it is constitutional for private probation companies to supervise misdemeanor offenders but illegal for courts to lengthen a probationer’s sentence after it’s been imposed...Georgia uses private probation companies more than any other state. Those companies collect about $40 million a year in supervision fees from low-level misdemeanor offenders, primarily from people who didn’t have the means to pay court fines for offenses such as illegal lane change, drunken driving or trespassing...One of the lawyers for the probationers called the system “cash register probation” because additional requirements are tacked on by the companies in order to increase fees they can collect."

I was talking to someone on the phone who told me about this GA Supreme Court decision.  So, thanks for the tip!  I haven't read the actual opinion yet (and don't know the legal reasoning), but from a policy perspective this is the right call.  This also falls on defense counsels (which the Wall Street Journal pointed out this week).  They need to be advocating for a realistic fine that the accused can afford.  

More here.  This quote is particularly troubling and should bring together the strange bedfellows of fiscal conservatives and social justice warriors:

"In many jurisdictions around the country, failure to pay criminal debt extends an otherwise law-abiding individual’s entanglement in the justice system.  Many states extend the term of supervision for failure to pay, despite the reality that supervision costs money.  Another enforcement mechanism – the issuance of warrants for nonpayment of fees – pulls individuals before the court and may result in incarceration. Therefore, an individual can pay a penalty for an offense, and then be incarcerated for failing to pay off the debt incurred as a result of that offense...Ironically, these tactics are costly to the state.  Probation officers, judges and court personnel must spend time serving as debt collectors. The privatization of debt collection is increasingly common, but the success of these companies is difficult to assess.  By 2011, uncollected criminal justice debt in the United States totaled $50 billion. Very little of this debt will be collected.  Florida, for example, expects to recover just 9 percent of the fees and fines imposed in felony cases.  In Washington State, the county clerks collect, on average, less than 5 percent of the total fees and fines imposed in a particular case."

For a refresher on Marshalsea.

The Middle Class Squeeze:  "The American middle class has absorbed a steep increase in the cost of health care and other necessities as incomes have stagnated over the past half decade, a squeeze that has forced families to cut back spending on everything from clothing to restaurants.  Health-care spending by middle-income Americans rose 24% between 2007 and 2013, driven by an even larger rise in the cost of buying health insurance, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of detailed consumer-spending data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  That hit has been accompanied by increases in spending on other necessities, including food eaten at home, rent and education, as well as the soaring cost of staying connected digitally via cellphones and home Internet service."

There has been a lot of discussion in the last week or so about the middle class, as the WSJ's article above shows.  A kerfuffle started by Sen Schumer's comments about missed opportunities to help the middle class (here's a liberal organization's take on it) kind of kicked it off.  As the WSJ article points out, the healthcare cost squeeze on the middle class predated the Affordable Care Act.  But I'm not sure we fully know what the impact has been.  Here's an article arguing why ACA is good for the middle class and one arguing that it is bad

Bit of a poor transition, but I'm interested in the impact of falling gas prices and spending habits of the middle class.  I'd love to look into that as well as how other policies impact the middle class.  I think one of the most important jobs ARPI will do is fully research the impact of policy on middle class families in the region, and to make sure those policies help to keep middle class families out of poverty.

I'm Sure They'll Politely Decline:  Good for him.  And if you are not familiar with his story--do yourself a favor and get to know it.

What is the Meaning of Life?  Find Meaning.:  "In his bestselling 1946 book, Man's Search for Meaning, which he wrote in nine days about his experiences in the camps, Frankl concluded that the difference between those who had lived and those who had died came down to one thing: Meaning, an insight he came to early in life. When he was a high school student, one of his science teachers declared to the class, "Life is nothing more than a combustion process, a process of oxidation." Frankl jumped out of his chair and responded, "Sir, if this is so, then what can be the meaning of life?" As he saw in the camps, those who found meaning even in the most horrendous circumstances were far more resilient to suffering than those who did not. "Everything can be taken from a man but one thing," Frankl wrote in Man's Search for Meaning, "the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

I think the lesson that Frankl shares with us is equally applicable to poverty.  It isn't as simple as solving the shortfall in money.  It is also helping people get to the point of finding meaning or purpose in their lives.