Bell et al v. City of Jackson

The City of Jackson, Mississippi routinely incarcerated people for failure to pay fines and fees for traffic violations and other misdemeanor offenses without any inquiry as to their ability to pay. Cases filed against people who could afford to pay the fines and fees were closed, and the person was free to go.  However, if a person was unable to immediately pay the full amount imposed, the court offered two options:  they could “work off” the debt at the rate of $58.00 a day or “sit out” the debt in jail and be credited $25.00 a day. No accommodation was given for persons who wished to work but suffered from a disability. Further, only attorneys were allowed to access court files. Therefore, many indigent defendants never had access to the files.

Settlement: June 2016
  • No incarceration of defendants who are unable to pay
  • City must make individualized inquiries into defendant’s ability to pay and consider financial hardship in sentencing.
  • City must offer either a reasonable payment plan or community service, taking a person’s financial circumstances into account.
  • City will not charge extra fees for participation in payment plans or the community service.
  • City will provide reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities willing to work or do community service.
  • City will provide counsel if court considers custody.
  • The municipal court will keep accurate records and make the files more accessible to defendants.

You can find a detailed summary and case documents via the Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse.

42 USC § 1983, alleging due process and equal protection violations, Sixth Amendment (alleging right to counsel and inadequate waiver of the right to counsel)
3:15-cv-732-TSL-RHW (S.D. Miss.)
October 2015
Equal Justice Under Law, Macarthur Justice Center, McDuff & Byrd