Missouri towns sued over ‘debtors prisons’

Missouri towns sued over ‘debtors prisons’

[JURIST] Rights group Equal Justice Under Law [advocacy website] filed suit Fridays against the cities of Ferguson and Jennings [complaints, PDF], Missouri, for their practice of jailing citizens who fail to pay debts owed to the city for minor offenses and traffic tickets. The group alleges poor citizens are being unfairly imprisoned for their inability to make a “monetary payment” and that the cities are failing to make legal representation available to detained citizens. Furthermore, duration of incarceration was said to be arbitrary and indefinite, ending only when plaintiffs’ family members could pay the outstanding debt, or when officials decided to let them out for free. The complaints outline allegations of systematic abuses including unsanitary cells, denial of food and medical care, humiliation tactics and verbal derogatory and discriminatory attacks. Equal Justice Under Law claims [statement] the use of “debtors prisons” is employed to create millions of dollars of profit for the city, but at the fear and expense of the impoverished population.

The Ferguson police force has been a source of controversy [BBC report] since the death of Michael Brown on August 9. Following the teenager’s death, nationwide protests [BBC report] erupted to call into question the actions of the Ferguson police force. In late August five protesters [JURIST report] filed a lawsuit against the city and several officials for unnecessary and unwarranted force against demonstrators. In October a federal judge ruled [JURIST report] that the tactic of forcing protestors to move every five seconds, which was frequently used by Ferguson police officers to control protestors, was unconstitutional and an injection was ordered to stop the practice. The actions of Ferguson police towards protestors were further denounced [JURIST report] when Amnesty International declared them to be human rights abuses.