[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [official website] filed a federal class action lawsuit [complaint] on Wednesday against the city of Biloxi, Mississippi, the Biloxi Police Chief, a Municipal Court judge and Judicial Correction Services, Inc. for allegedly arresting and jailing poor people illegally in debtor’s prisons. The plaintiffs were arrested [press release] for failing to pay traffic fines and held in jail for up to seven days without a hearing and were not informed of their right to counsel. The ACLU argues that the detentions violate citizens’ rights under the Fourth Amendment to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures without probable cause and the Fourteenth Amendment right to hearings on the ability to pay, which was granted by the Supreme Court in 1983.
Although the US Supreme Court [official website] outlawed the practice of incarcerating people for court-imposed debts over 30 years ago, many local and state governments are still accused of jailing poor people in “debtors’ prisons.” The ACLU filed a lawsuit against Benton County [press release] in Washington earlier this month, claiming it unconstitutionally collects court-imposed debts. In March the ACLU filed a similar suit [press release] against DeKalb County in Georgia. In 2014 the Supreme Court of Ohio [official website] warned state judges to end the policy [JURIST report] of imprisoning people who are unable to pay court fines. The ACLU of Ohio had released a report [JURIST report] the previous year urging the Ohio Supreme Court to bring an end to the debtors’ prisons.