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.
The City of Ferguson jails people when they cannot afford to pay their traffic debt and cash bonds for other minor offenses. No inquiry is made into the person’s ability to pay, no alternatives to payment are offered to the individuals, and no counsel is provided.
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 seminal report examines fines and fees practices in the fifteen U.S. states with the highest prison populations, focusing on “user fees” and their impact on individuals reentering society after incarceration.