The complaint alleged that impoverished city residents were jailed solely because of their inability to pay court fines and fees from traffic and other municipal violations.
Donyale Thomas was in the Ferguson jail for over a week before the City informed her that they would accept $200 for her release.
Roelif Carter pled guilty and was assessed fines and fees. Fear of jail coerced Mr. Carter to make the payment until he simply could not afford to do so.
Keilee Fant is a 37-year-old certified nurse assistant and single mother who was arrested for unpaid traffic tickets while taking her children to school. She was jailed over 12 times in 20 years for her inability to pay the debt.
Mr. Thompson was jailed for five days due to his inability to pay fines and fees. He was not informed of his right to request court-appointed counsel, and was ultimately not provided with counsel, nor a pre-deprivation indigency hearing prior to being jailed.
Unable to pay debt from traffic tickets, impoverished defendants were given the options of paying the debt immediately or sitting out their debt in jail at the rate of $50.00 a day. Those in jail were given the further option of performing janitorial services at the rate of $25.00 a day. No inquiry was made as to the defendant’s ability to pay.
This video by Human Rights Watch shows how private probation companies can strip people of basic necessities and jail them because they can’t afford to pay their court debt and exorbitant probation fees.
The SPLC filed a lawsuit challenging Cleveland’s and Watts’ incarceration as a violation of the due process and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution and the state constitution.
Included in the appellant’s sentence was “court costs” of $234. The appellant appealed, arguing that there was insufficient evidence to support the amount of the costs.
This publication uses personal accounts of people in five different states who struggled to pay their court debt to illustrate the negative effects of debtors’ prisons on individuals, the economy, and the justice system.