Whether you agree or don’t agree with this the United States incarcerates more people than any other country in the world. In fact, according to the Economist.com, it ‘s estimated that last year there were about 2.4 million people in U.S. jails.
It’s not that difficult to end up in jail these days either. You could get jailed over a DUI, for protesting or for just getting mouthy with a policeman. The time you are in jail will definitely be your worst experience ever – both physically and emotionally. Ask anyone that’s been in jail – even if it was just overnight – and they’ll probably tell you it was the worst thing that had happened to them. But there are ramifications to having been jailed that go far beyond just the experience itself. Among the most important of these are the financial ones and here are the most common of them.
What happens to your finances
If you’re arrested just for a misdemeanor or a petty crime and are even proven innocent, being jailed can have a lot of negative effects on you finances. Of course, the effects will be more serious if you spend a lot of time in jail or were convicted of a crime.
First comes bail
First, you will need to post bail. How much this will set you back will depend on the seriousness of your crime. If you can’t raise the money and have to stay in jail for some period of time you may not be able to stay employed, pay your debts or when you get out your skills might not be sharp enough to get back to work.
If you’re assigned a public defender
You will need a lawyer and you might qualify for a public defender. In this case, you won’t have to pay any attorney’s fees but as the old saying goes you get what you pay for. For instance, your public defender might be a very young, inexperienced attorney fresh out of law school. However, even if you have a good public defender, you’ll still be hit with fees for the court process and the arrest itself that can add up to a couple of thousand dollars. For examples, DUI costs in Colorado, just the court costs when it’s the first conviction, has fees that average about $800. In addition, there are detoxification fees of $455 and probation supervision costs that can be from $600 up to $1200. So even without an attorney, that DUI could cost you north of $1855. You could also have your driver’s license suspended so on top of everything else you could end up having to pay for taxi service or for service from Lyft or Uber. If you spent just $10 each way going to and from work that would add on an additional $100 a week or $400 a month.
If you can’t qualify for a public defender you’ll have to hire an attorney and that could mean thousands and thousands of dollars. If you are convicted of a crime you may find that your state prevents convicts from getting food stamps or other benefits.
If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime
That’s a line that was popularized by actor Robert Blake on the TV show Baretta. And there’s more to this than just serving time. It costs a lot more for serious crimes – or felonies. Your legal expenses will cost more because it will take longer to litigate the crime and time is money especially when it comes to attorneys’ fees. He or she may have to hire expert witnesses or investigators and this will run up your costs even higher.
The costs associated with being jailed are likely to add to your debt. But the bigger issue is whether you’ll be able to keep current with your payments while incarcerated. If your incarceration lasts for some time it wouldn’t be uncommon for you to get out of jail owing a lot more money than when you walked in.
This is why so many convicts choose bankruptcy.
Filing for bankruptcy can be helpful if you have a lot of unsecured debts like credit card debts and medical bills. But even at that you may still be saddled with non-dischargeable debts like alimony, child support, and student loans. You’re still obliged to repay those debts or you’ll end up piling on even more debt. Your car could be repossessed or you could be tossed out of wherever you’d been living for not paying your mortgage or your rent. And despite the bankruptcy, you may still have other outstanding debts that didn’t get discharged and you will have to repay.
Is there any situation where if you’re arrested you won’t suffer any financial penalties?
The answer to this is probably not. The task of getting out of jail almost always costs something even if your charges are ultimately dismissed or you’re found innocent. Plus, the arrest will be a matter of public record that can affect you for the rest of your life – especially when it comes to employment. You could also lose your job even if you’re incarcerated just for a short period of time. The reason for this is because you couldn’t show up for your job and you now have a criminal record. Some employers don’t want to deal with people anymore even if their charges were dropped. It’s the old “if he was arrested he must have done something’”.
Is there anything I could do to mitigate these financial dangers?
There is one thing you could do if you are arrested: have a person you can trust to handle your finances. If he or she isn’t able to pay your bills, they could call your creditors and let them know what’s going on while your locked up. While this should help, it won’t completely eliminate the problems of having been arrested.
Your best option
While this is sometimes easier said than done your best bet is to stay out of jail. If you are stopped by a policeman for some minor infraction be calm and courteous nor matter how difficult that might be. Treat the policeman with courtesy and you might get away with just a ticket or not even that – if you catch him or her in a really good mood. If it’s a more serious offense about the best you could do is try your darndest to raise bail so you could get out of jail as quickly as possible. The longer you’re incarcerated the worse things are almost sure to become.