Drivers License Suspension Laws Punish The Formerly Incarcerated Long After Release (HBO)

Stephanie Powell of Ruckersville, Virginia, is caught in a Catch-22: She desperately needs a full-time job to pay off thousands of dollars in debt, but she can't easily find full-time work without the ability to drive.

A judge revoked Powell's license more than decade ago for a drug conviction. She's one of millions of adult Americans who have lost their drivers' licenses — not from insurance problems or driving infractions, but because they’re unable to pay off piling court debts.

And without jobs, they can't easily tackle those fines and regain their ability to drive.

In 12 states, judges can revoke licenses as punishment for drug convictions, and in 43 states and Washington, D.C., they can revoke them over any money owed to the court.

Powell’s last conviction was in 2006, but more than a decade later, she still owes over ten thousand dollars to five different courts in Virginia. Her part-time job sharing samples at Sam's Club is hardly enough to cover living expenses, let alone pay off her mounting fees and interest.

​In the 1980s and 1990s, lawmakers enthusiastic about crime and punishment developed the idea to tie the ability to drive to convictions and court fees. It’s a system that disproportionately harms poor communities, where formerly incarcerated people find that even after they’ve served their time, they’re crushed under debt and weighed down by circumstances and stigmas that make it hard to find and drive to new jobs.

And conservative and progressive policymakers alike have begun to agree that these laws aren't working.

VICE News Tonight met with Powell at her home in Virginia, where one out of every six drivers in the state, or nearly one million people, have lost their licenses due to court fees.

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(Source: VICE News,