ACLU sues Biloxi, Mississippi over indigent debtors

Accusing the government of specifically targeting those living in hardship, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed suit against Biloxi, Mississippi, for illegally jailing citizens who are delinquent in settling unpaid municipal debt.

The lawsuit filed on October 21 also contends Biloxi engages in an “illegal revenue generation scheme” and restricts the accused access to legal representation or court appearances.

“People are being jailed because they’re poor,” said ACLU attorney Nusrat Choudhury. “There’s no chance for them to explain that their inability to pay is because of poverty.”

Vincent Creel, spokesperson for the city of Biloxi countered:

“We believe the ACLU is mistaken about the process in Biloxi.  (The city) treats all defendants fairly under the law.”

Creel also stated the court system in Biloxi routinely mandates community service to offenders to discharge their debt.

Jailing the penurious for unpaid fines and fees is a sign of desperation.   

There exist alternatives:  Garnishing wages is a perfectly legal recourse for Biloxi, as well as payment plans or dismissing trifling charges altogether.  Biloxi, however, should be noted for exercising the option of community service.

Is the ACLU fighting for the impoverished or are they demanding the accused get a pass?

The ACLU’s lawsuit asserts those jailed are specifically targeted because they are poor.  However flimsy and far-fetched this may be, wooliness does not appear to be the inspiration for the collection of unpaid obligations.  It is far more conceivable to believe Biloxi is desperately short of revenue and needs to refill its coffers.

Biloxi’s pursuit of every nickel is a vivid reminder that local governments are suffering economically.

 

[Reuters] [Photo courtesy Commondreams.org]