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Updated by Simona Combi on Sep 01, 2015
Simona Combi Simona Combi
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Fleecing the poor

These seven charts explain how Ferguson-and many other US cities-wring revenue from black people and the poor

In its violent crackdowns on demonstrations since a white police officer shot 18-year-old Michael Brown in early August, Ferguson police revealed a fresh proclivity for abusing its citizens. However, the city's finances suggest the St. Louis suburb's criminal justice system has been stealthily exploiting residents-particularly those who are black or poor-for years.

Probation Fees Multiply as Companies Profit

CHILDERSBURG, Ala. - Three years ago, Gina Ray, who is now 31 and unemployed, was fined $179 for speeding. She failed to show up at court (she says the ticket bore the wrong date), so her license was revoked. When she was next pulled over, she was, of course, driving without a license.

Get Out of Jail, Inc. - The New Yorker

On a cold November afternoon, Harriet Cleveland, a forty-nine-year-old mother of three, waved me over from the steps of her pink cottage in Montgomery, Alabama. She was off to her part-time job as a custodian at a local day-care center, looking practical but confectionary: pink lipstick, a pastel yellow-and-pink tunic, and dangly pink earrings.

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Predatory Lending (HBO)

Payday loans put a staggering amount of Americans in debt. They prey on the elderly and military service members. They're awful, and nearly impossible to regulate. We've recruited Sarah Silverman to help spread the word about how to avoid falling into their clutches. Connect with Last Week Tonight online...

How St. Louis County, Missouri profits from poverty

On March 20th in the St. Louis County town of Florissant, someone made an illegal U-turn in front of Nicole Bolden. The 32-year-old black single mother hit her brakes, but couldn't avoid a collision. Bolden wasn't at fault for the accident, and wanted to continue on her way.

Skyrocketing Court Fines Are Major Revenue Generator for Ferguson

Much has been made of the apparently poor police-community relations in Ferguson, Mo., where a confrontation with the police two weeks ago left 18-year old Michael Brown dead and sparked weeks of community unrest. But there are other less visible yet no less serious indicators of simmering conflict in Ferguson, say experts, including one buried in the city's Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR).

Stop and seize

Know your rights: During traffic stops on the nation's highways, the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment protects motorists "against unreasonable searches and seizures." The law also gives police the power to investigate and act on their suspicions. 1. Police have a long-established authority to stop motorists for traffic infractions.

Police intelligence targets cash

But privately, they promote a book that extols the quest for cash. Ron Hain, a marketing official with Desert Snow and a full-time deputy sheriff in Kane County, Ill., has urged police to use cash seizures to bolster municipal coffers.

They fought the law. Who won?

Know your rights: During traffic stops on the nation's highways, the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment protects motorists "against unreasonable searches and seizures." The law also gives police the power to investigate and act on their suspicions. 1. Police have a long-established authority to stop motorists for traffic infractions.

Highway-Robbing Highway Patrolmen

Jordan Klepper discovers an unlikely source for $5 billion in federal funding: highway robbery. Air Date: July 22, 2014

Roll through a stop sign in Ferguson, end up in jail. Here's how.

Over 100 people showed up on Tuesday night at the first Ferguson City Council meeting since Michael Brown's killing, and unreasonable court fees were a major complaint. Ferguson officials proposed scaling back the myriad ways small-time offenders can end up paying big bucks-or worse.

Arrests Form Financial Bedrock Across St. Louis County Towns

The lifeblood of the tiny St. Louis suburb of Beverly Hills is lawbreakers, whose traffic fines account for more than half the annual revenue. In nearby St. Ann, 39 percent of the general-fund budget comes from court fines and fees. In north St. Louis County, a predominantly black area where the U.S.

Prison bankers cash in on captive customers

Editor's note: This is the first in a two-part series examining how financial companies charge high fees to the families of prison inmates. The second part, which will run Thursday, focuses on no-bid deals between Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase & Co. and the U.S.

Time is money: who's making a buck off prisoners' families?

Sign up for the Center for Public Integrity's Watchdog email and get the news you want from the Center when you want it. Keith Miller: I'll show you a few items we get from commissary. This is mostly food here. Dan Wagner: Prisons contract with private vendors to sell goods and services to inmates.

John Oliver Amplifies the Absurdity of Civil Forfeitures

In the latest 'Last Week Tonight,' host John Oliver takes aim at the controversial government policy of civil forfeitures

Low-income drivers face higher auto insurance, even when they have clean driving records

For someone making $21,000 a year, paying $500 a year for auto insurance can be a struggle. Yet low-income families across the country are paying about that much for minimum coverage, even with clean driving records, according to the Consumer Federation of America.

States Ease Interest Rate Laws That Protected Poor Borrowers

Lenders have come under fire in Washington in recent years. Yet one corner of the financial industry - lending to people with poor credit scores - has found sympathetic audiences in many state capitals.

Rental America: Why the poor pay $4,150 for a $1,500 sofa

CULLMAN, Ala. - The love seat and sofa that Jamie Abbott can't quite afford ended up in her double-wide trailer because of the day earlier this year when she and her family walked into a new store called Buddy's.

The criminalization of poverty

A few months ago I got a speeding ticket while driving through a southern state. (I'll just leave it at that for now.) I was definitely speeding, so the stop didn't bother me. Neither did the specific fine for speeding - $62. What I found appalling were the add-ons.

Are Banks Too Expensive to Use?

IT was a slow afternoon at Check Center, the check casher/payday lender in a storefront on a busy corner in downtown Berkeley, Calif., where I worked as a teller. My manager, Joe, and I were both dressed in red polo shirts embroidered with the Check Center logo.

Highway seizure in Iowa fuels debate about asset-forfeiture laws

The two men in the rented red Nissan Altima were poker players traveling through Iowa on their way to Las Vegas. The police were state troopers on the hunt for criminals, contraband and cash.

Police Use Department Wish List When Deciding Which Assets to Seize

The seminars offered police officers some useful tips on seizing property from suspected criminals. Don't bother with jewelry (too hard to dispose of) and computers ("everybody's got one already"), the experts counseled. Do go after flat screen TVs, cash and cars. Especially nice cars. In one seminar, captured on video in September, Harry S.

How Driver's License Suspensions Unfairly Target The Poor

If you get caught drinking and driving in Wisconsin, and it's your first offense, you lose your license for nine months. For a hit-and-run, the punishment is suspension for one year. But if you don't pay a ticket for a minor driving offense, such as driving with a broken tail light, you can lose your license for two years.

Study Finds Local Taxes Hit Lower Wage Earners Harder
When it comes to the taxes closest to home, the less you earn, the harder you're hit. That is the conclusion of an analysis by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy that evaluates the local tax burden in every state, from Washington, labeled the most regressive, to Delaware, ranked as the fairest of them all.
Study Finds Court Fees Also Punish The Families Of Those Who Owe
A new report on the growth of court fines and fees that are charged to often-impoverished offenders is focusing on another group that pays: their families. Titled "When All Else Fails, Fining the Family," the study finds that impoverished people who go through the criminal justice system almost always get cash from family and friends to help pay their court-ordered fines, even though those family and friends are often poor, too.