As New York moves to decriminalize low-level offenses, arguing enforcement is “rigged against communities of color,” other large cities are coming under pressure from the Justice Department to do the same thing.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch has issued a warning to municipal and state judges across the country that their courts could lose federal funding if they don’t ease up on fines and arrest warrants for minor crimes involving poor offenders, indigent minorities in particular.
In lieu of fines and jail time, Lynch urges the nation’s 6,500 municipal courts to provide an avenue for offenders to perform “community service” or take advantage of “amnesty days,” whereby outstanding arrest warrants are cleared for nominal fees.
Failure to comply with these policies could trigger a Ferguson-style discrimination investigation. Already, Lynch says she’s “evaluating discrimination complaints against several court systems.”
A strongly worded “guidance” letter, written by her civil rights team, warns that a local court policy of enforcing warrants for failure to pay court fines and fees can have an adverse “disparate impact” on African-Americans, who are fined and/or arrested for outstanding warrants at “disproportionate” rates versus whites.
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