Judges: End jailing people for unpaid fines in Rock County

Legal Issues

When a court case is ending, a judge often lists what a defendant needs to do and know.

It can include contacting a probation agent, not possessing a gun or avoiding the use of drugs or alcohol.

One routine item usually on the list is paying court costs, which can total hundreds of dollars or more. Failing to pay could land the defendant in jail.

Orders to jail for nonpayment are called arrest warrant commitments, authorizing "that a defendant be arrested and detained until a fine is paid or discharged by due course of law," according to Rock County's website .

"A lot of this happens outside of anybody's view," said Eric Nelson, a recently retired assistant public defender who worked in Rock County for nearly 40 years.

"Broadly speaking, it's a debtor's prison," he told The Janesville Gazette. It's coming to an end. All seven Rock County circuit judges recently signed an order that should substantially cut the number of people put in jail because they can't pay such fines.

The result should be fewer people incarcerated only because they're poor.

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