Following litigation by the ACLU, the MacArthur Justice Center, and the Southern Poverty Law Center challenging debtor’s prisons in Biloxi, Jackson, and Corinth, the Mississippi Supreme Court made two changes related to fines and fees in its Rules of Criminal Procedure. These rules were later codified in Mississippi state law.
The first change, Rule 26.6, relates to nonpayment incarceration and ability to pay hearings.
- “Incarceration shall not automatically follow the nonpayment of [fines and fees]. Incarceration may be employed only after the court has [determined that failure to pay was willful.”
- At ability to pay hearings, the court must determine whether failure to pay was willful. If it was not willful, the court must either allow extra time to pay, reduce the amount of each payment owed on the payment plan, or (in some instances) waive the fines and fees altogether
- When a defendant is sentenced to pay fines, fees, or restitution, courts may establish payment plans in accordance with the defendant’s ability to pay.
- When a defendant fails to pay, the court must personally serve the defendant with a summons notifying him or her of a hearing to determine whether nonpayment was willful.
The second change, Rule 27.3, relates to nonpayment of fines and fees owed by individuals under criminal justice supervision.
- If an individual violates the terms of probation by failing to pay their fines and fees, courts shall not automatically incarcerate them unless failure to pay was willful.