This case alleged that the City of Biloxi operated a debtor’s prison, routinely jailing indigent people who could not afford to pay fines and fees imposed in traffic and misdemeanor cases. Biloxi used court fines and fees as a critical source of revenue for the City’s general fund. Even after the City stopped using a private probation company, staff petitioned the Court to arrest debtors who failed to pay on time. Payment plans were available only after an initial payment of $50 or $100 was made. Individuals were never asked about their ability to pay, and no counsel was appointed during hearings.
Settlement: March 2016
Parties reached a settlement in March 2016. Court retained jurisdiction over the case for three years and the City issued a compliance report on September 2016. The settlement included:
- Implement ability to pay hearings prior to incarceration.
- No minimum requirement for the monthly payment plans.
- Court shall consider alternatives to payment of fines and fees, and no fee can be imposed for community service.
- No warrant shall be issued before an ability to pay is held.
- Private probation companies will no longer be used for the collection of fines and fees.
- Court will recall and quash all failure to pay warrants more than two years old.
- Full-time public defender office to be created to represent people at hearings for nonpayment.
You can find a detailed summary and case documents via the Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse as well as the ACLU website.
Related bench card: Biloxi Municipal Court Procedures for Legal Financial Obligations & Community Service