Income inequality and poverty affect us in many ways we may not think about. Gregory W. is a homeless man in Louisiana who was arrested for stealing food from a grocery store. The retail value of the food was $39. He was assessed $339 in fines and fees and was jailed. His charges were later changed to community service because he could not pay the fines. But when he could not pay the bus fare to complete his community service, he went back to jail. He spent a total of 198 days behind bars, and his incarceration cost the City of New Orleans $3,500. (American Civil Liberties Union, “IN FOR A PENNY: The Rise of America’s New Debtor’s Prisons.”)
What would be a fair way to hold this man accountable for his theft? When you think about alternative sentencing and what other factors do you think have to be taken into account? What alternative approaches can you imagine that would be more equitable, especially considering the fact that you actually paid for this man’s extended stay?