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April 06, 2009

Indecent Society

By: Bernard Chazelle

I've grown more and more convinced that our collective goal should be to build a decent society. People ask, What's a decent society? Like many things, it's easier to understand its opposite. Like this:

Edwina Nowlin, a poor Michigan resident, was ordered to reimburse a juvenile detention center $104 a month for holding her 16-year-old son. When she explained to the court that she could not afford to pay, Ms. Nowlin was sent to prison.

Small and ugly. That's what an indecent society looks like.

— Bernard Chazelle


An indecent society also looks like this.

On the plus side, people at hedge funds think Larry Summers is really smart! So it all evens out in the end.

Posted at April 6, 2009 11:04 AM

"CHARITY CARE".."CHARITY CARE"??? Health care is a right! A decent society embodies this right.

Posted by: IronButterfly at April 6, 2009 11:44 AM

I can't help but wonder if any of the people that 60 minutes talked to volunteered opinions about the US system of health insurance, which of course never made it into the final cut of this report(or even the initial cut).

Posted by: Jonathan Versen at April 6, 2009 12:16 PM

Debtors' prison, huh? Now where is the American Dickens?

Posted by: Cloud at April 6, 2009 12:16 PM

Yeah, I remember reading about debtor's prisons in elementary school in the 60's and thinking what a pointless, cruel thing to be doing.

And here we are.

Posted by: Poopyman at April 6, 2009 03:11 PM

No culture or society that encourages taking profits from the sick and dying can call itself either 'civilized,' 'ethical,' 'moral,' or 'humane.'

This is true, equally, of such culture or society which permits private profit from the punishment of its miscreants.

Posted by: Woody at April 6, 2009 03:58 PM

I can't help but wonder if any of the people that 60 minutes talked to volunteered opinions about the US system of health insurance, which of course never made it into the final cut of this report(or even the initial cut).
Posted by: Jonathan Versen

That was the story T.R. Reid told about the corporate meddling with his PGS/Frontline Special on Health In America. It was bought and paid for, apparently, by the influence of the Health Insurance lobbyists...PNHP said:
"My opinion is that they wanted to provide support for the current efforts of the Democrats in Congress and in The White House to build reform based on private health plans. A publicly-administered and publicly-financed program would require a total restart on the reform process, and so it wasn’t offered as a potential solution. In deference to the insurance executives, the producers didn’t even promote a public Medicare-like option."

Posted by: Woody at April 6, 2009 04:08 PM

Come on, you guys - debtor's prison, like so many other things, is only immoral if it's done at the behest of private citizens. When it's executed by the STATE, it is, by *definition*, just. There's tons of examples - if Sam Hatfield kills Jebediah McCoy for killing his wife, that's murder, a crime. But if the state kills Sam Hatfield for killing Jebediah McCoy, that's justice! Similarly, if I move onto your land and kick you onto the road, I'm guilty of all sorts of crimes. But if the state throws you off your land to sell it to a strip mall company, it's in the public interest! Or, if I lock you in my basement, subject you to physical abuse and make you make license plates for me, that's slavery - positively un-Con-sti-tu-tion-al. But the State does that every DAY, just like it says it can in the Constitution!

This is just another example of the way in which the apparently reprehensible can be gilded by the sanctifying touch of the State's wise hands. Sure, it would be wrong to send someone to prison for debts to a private individual. But, come on - we can't really hold the same standard for the State!

Posted by: saurabh at April 6, 2009 04:50 PM

If Ms Nowlin's story was not so outrageous and ridiculous ( as posted below, rather long ), it would be funny.

March 30, 2009

DETROIT – The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan asked for an emergency hearing today on behalf of an Escanaba woman sentenced to 30 days in jail because she is too poor to reimburse the court for her son’s stay in a juvenile detention facility.

“Like many people in these desperate economic times, Ms. Nowlin was laid off from work, lost her home and is destitute,” said Michael J. Steinberg, ACLU of Michigan Legal Director. “Jailing her because of her poverty is not only unconstitutional, it’s unconscionable and a shameful waste of resources. It is not a crime to be poor in this country and the government must stop resurrecting debtor’s prisons from the dustbin of history.”

In December 2008, Ms. Nowlin’s 16-year-old son was sentenced to the Bay Pines Center and Ms. Nowlin was ordered to pay $104 per month for his lodging. At the time of this order, Ms. Nowlin was homeless and working part-time with a friend after being laid off from her job. She told the court that she was unable to pay the ordered amount, however the judge found her in contempt for failing to pay. In addition, Ms. Nowlin’s requests for a court appointed attorney were denied.

Since March 3, 2009, Ms. Nowlin has been serving her sentence at the Delta County Jail. On March 6, 2009, she was released for one day to work. Once released she picked up her $178.53 check from work thinking that she now could pay the $104.00 to get out of jail. However, upon her return to jail that evening, the sheriff forced her to sign over her check to the jail to cover $120.00 for “room and board.” She was also charged $22 for a drug test and the booking fee.

is this justice or harassment and total lack of understanding of human condtion and bureaucratic need to punish?

And regarding the video about healthcare or rather lack of healthcare, it is so so sad. Reminded me of my hospital where during Reagan administration, with 15% increase in patient census and marked decrease in medicare reimbursements ( also medicaid as states had lost a lot of funding from the federal govt), the situation was BAD. I had patients who worked two jobs and still were the so called "working poor". To deny healthcare for lack of money is not only morally wrong, it is criminal. I can not even begin to imagine how I would feel if a friend or family member was denied healthcare because he/she did not have money and would face certain death.

Yes, it is about time, we as a people, set our priorities right and build a decent society as Prof Chazelle says.

Posted by: Rupa Shah at April 6, 2009 05:06 PM

Does this judge have a name? When does he come up for reelection?

Posted by: Bob In Pacifica at April 6, 2009 09:16 PM

From what I could find, the judge's name is Robert Goeble Jr who was appointed by a republican governor of Michigan in 2002.

Also, to my surprise, state of Michigan law allows imposing fees for boarding and lodging on the indiviual normally taking care of the detainee ( with some commonsense applied, one would think!!! )

I guess the society ( including the justice system ) needs a completely new direction!!

Posted by: Rupa Shah at April 6, 2009 10:57 PM


Why do you bold-face 'republican'? Are you implying that Democrats have never appointed any asshole judges?

Posted by: saurabh at April 7, 2009 03:49 AM

@saurabh Corporatism rules the day in this country. The state is the corporation and I truly believe that without the urging of private companies for debtors prisons, they wouldn't exist. Who runs the corporations? The people. In this system, we eat our own when times get tough. It's all very unfortunate.

Posted by: Nick at April 7, 2009 10:12 AM

Health care as a business is a disease.

Posted by: roy belmont at April 7, 2009 01:20 PM

Just may be, because of other republican appointments ( not necessarily only of judges ) like Daniel Pipes, John Bolton and Michael Brown ( Katrina )!

Posted by: Rupa Shah at April 7, 2009 04:55 PM

Mr. Steinberg, the ACLU spokesperson tragically mistated this case. It is a crime to be poor in this country.

Posted by: bobbyp at April 8, 2009 01:33 AM

"Who runs the corporations? The people...."

What color's the sky where you live, bubba?

The people no more "run" corporations than porpoises "run" oceans.

Posted by: Woody at April 8, 2009 11:29 AM