The Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement Monthly Workshop was held on December 1 at the Athens Clark County Library. This workshop address “Income Discrimination, Criminalization, and Poverty in the Deep South.” The Keynote speaker was Emily Rutledge a staff attorney with the Economic Justice Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. She represents, and advocates on behalf of, people living in poverty in the Deep South to ensure they are not punished or exploited because of their economic status. Several of her work areas include reforming municipal bail practices, ending debtors’ prisons, and improving healthcare access across the Southeast, among other issues.
What we learned: “Poor people in America today are not only facing an economic gap – they’re facing a justice gap. Too often, they’re exploited and abused simply for being poor.” Municipalities across the country jail poor people because they can’t pay minor traffic fines or other low level offenses. These debtor’s prisons put people in jail to sit out their fees. Private for-profit companies oversee probation and charges are paid to these companies with added fees for their “services”.
An SPLC lawsuit in Montgomery, Ala., has stopped the jailing of indigent (poor) people who can’t pay traffic fines – This is the story of a 50 year old grandmother who was sent to prison because she couldn’t afford to pay for a traffic ticket.
In other places, local government uses illegal discriminatory methods to fine citizens to balance their budgets and for the purpose of segregation:
For more than 40 years, the SPLC has represented the most vulnerable people in society – often those living in poverty who cannot afford to mount legal challenges to the injustices they faced.” Today, the SPLC Economic Justice Project is fighting back against deeply en-grained policies and practices that exploit or punish the poor simply because of their economic status. Their work has a national reach but is primarily focused on the Deep South.
The Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement is honored to work with the Southern Poverty Law Center as we seek justice and lead change within our community.