Debtors prisons were outlawed long ago, but NPR has an enraging report on how the poorest members of society are constantly ensnared by a web of fees and court costs designed to raise revenue. Faced with a choice of "pay or stay," those who have been convicted of a crime and who have resources can walk, while those who do not are trapped in a cycle of chronic debt and imprisonment.

In New York state, people must pay for their electronic monitoring devices, their probation officers, and their room and board (fortunately the state, unlike others, doesn't charge for public defenders). New York's fees have also increased markedly since 2010, and chances are you or someone you know owes them: in the city alone there are 1.2 million outstanding warrants, many of which are for unpaid court costs and fees. In the event of being stopped by the police when you can't afford to pay your fines, it helps to know the mayor.

Just because you stay out of jail doesn't mean you remain in society if you owe the state money for fees related to your charge:

"There are a lot of things you can't do. A lot of jobs you can't apply for," says Todd Clear, who studies crime policy and is provost of Rutgers University, Newark. "Lots of benefits you can't apply for. If you have a license, a driver's license that needs to be renewed, you can't renew it. So what it means is you live your entire life under a cloud. In a very real sense, they drop out of the real society."

Taxes are supposed to pay for these sort of social services, but that would mean we'd have to collect them first.