In a practice startlingly akin to the debtors’ prisons of the 19th and early 20th centuries, Circuit Court judges in New Hampshire commonly jail those who have no ability to pay fines without a meaningful hearing and without providing access to counsel. This practice imposed on our most vulnerable citizens is unconstitutional, financially unsound, and cruel.
In an alarming number of cases where indigent defendants appear in court to address an unpaid fine, judges do not inform these defendants of their rights. Judges do not afford them a lawyer. Judges do not even determine whether they can pay the fine. Judges simply put them in jail.