Court fees trap ex-inmates in a prison of debt

Categories: Economic Inequality

In Washington, formerly incarcerated men and women face massive debts and a 12 percent interest rate.

SPOKANE, Wash. — Jason Hill has been free, sober and out of trouble for six years, working, raising a son with his fiancée and seeing his mother through her last days. Yet he maintains the nervous hands and simmering gaze of a man just released from prison. His record seems to cast a permanent gloom over his prospects.

“I’m doing better than a lot of other people are, because I do have a job,” he said, though his commute to the corner store where he works can be a challenge. He’s developed a strategy to reduce the risk of interacting with the police: walking, taking the bus or paying a trusted friend, a white man without a record, to give him a lift. On a scorching day in June, however, he made an exception: He accepted a ride to work in a car with out-of-state plates, a quick drive that takes him two hours by bus.

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