Lawsuit: Court Illegally Jails People Who Can’t Pay Fines

Seven people have sued Mississippi's capital city, saying its municipal court illegally jailed them because they couldn't pay court fines.

News Story (Mississippi)

Associated Press (AP)
October 13, 2015

Tags: Court Debt, Debtors Prison

Organizations mentioned/involved: Equal Justice Under Law (DC)


The federal lawsuit against Jackson, spearheaded by two nonprofit legal groups, is a prong in a nationwide fight over how poor people should be treated by the criminal justice system.

Similar suits have been filed in Alabama, Louisiana and Missouri. All accuse court systems of ignoring U.S. Supreme Court decisions that say courts must determine whether people have the ability to pay fines before jailing them for nonpayment. The lawyers say indigent people must be offered a chance to perform community service or else jail equals a “debtors’ prison.”

“This is not about giving people a free pass or giving poor folks a get-out-of-jail-free card,” said Cliff Johnson, a lawyer for the MacArthur Justice Center. “This is about not punishing people for the fact that they’re poor, in a way other people don’t experience.”