Federal Lawsuits Allege Some State Courts Running Debtors’ Prisons


In 1833, debtors’ prisons were abolished under federal law. Yet, many political and legal experts believe that while debtors’ prisons don’t technically exist in America, our legal system still imprisons people who are too poor to pay their fines, court fees, and probation expenses. Two recently filed federal lawsuits allege that imprisoning people for failing to pay their fines and other case-related fees and expenses is a violation of Constitutional rights of the poor. One of the federal lawsuits was filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the MacArthur Justice Center against the City of Corrinth, a city in Mississippi with a population of around 15,000. The second federal lawsuit, also filed by MacArthur Justice Center, was filed against the City of Gretna, Louisiana and is a class action.

Southern Poverty Law Center Seeks to Protect Constitutional Rights

The City of Corrinth is accused by the Southern Poverty Law Center and MacArthur Justice Center of jailing people who are charged with a misdemeanor or a municipal offense who are unable to pay fines and court costs. The lawsuit alleges that those individuals are often held for months at a time and the City often refuses to take their ability to pay into consideration, as required by law. The lawsuit further alleges that the sitting Judge, John C. Ross, does not inquire on the defendant’s ability to pay and doesn’t inform the defendant of their legal right to counsel before they are sentenced to jail time.