I have never yet sat through a morning session of court and not found at least one fascinating story that should be told. Although I don't always get to tell them here because Eastern Hampshire District Court covers so many towns besides Amherst, and I try to keep the focus on Amherst.
But this sad story is hard to ignore; and since the whistleblower has her law practice in Amherst (and is smart enough to advertise here) that's close enough for me.
Usual Monday morning crowd
One of many ironic things about this debt debacle is Mr. Okoroafor could not afford a lawyer. Normally if a defendant is charged with a crime that could result in jail time and they can't afford an attorney, the court appoints a public defender with a fee of only $150.
And in some economic hardship cases the judge will even waive the "bar advocacy" fee entirely.
But since Mr. Okoroafor was brought to civil small claims court, theoretically there was no chance of jail time. Unless you appear before an angry judge.
Had Mr. Okoroafor failed to pay a $500 fine imposed by the courts and been carted off to jail, he would be credited $30/day until the total amount of the fine is paid off -- either by serving 17 days or coming up with the cash.
Kind of a rip off to defendants when the average cost of incarceration in Massachusetts is $47,102 per year or $129 per day. Big difference between serving 17 days or only 4.
And it's not like the Massachusetts Department Of Corrections needs the business as last year their overcrowding rate was 132%.
On March 8th at the infamous Blarney Blowout, Amherst and UMass police made 58 arrests for dangerous unsocial hooliganism -- including throwing bottle and cans at police officers -- costing thousands of dollars in property damages and a few hundred thousand in remedial actions.
And as of today, not a single perp has been sentenced to as much as one day in jail.
But yes, by all means, lets send a 73-year-old retiree to jail for the crime of being poor in America.