Alabama Imprisons People Too Poor to Pay Traffic Tickets, Forces Them to Work Off Fines by Scrubbing Blood, Feces
According to a lawsuit filed last week, at least four people in Montgomery, Alabama have been imprisoned for being unable to pay their traffic tickets and were forced to scrub floors and perform other prison jobs to pay off their fines.
According to ThinkProgress, “the complaint charges that Montgomery is running an illegal debtors’ prison by imprisoning poor people who can’t afford to pay fines.”
The lawsuit alleges that the city made them pay off their loans by performing prison jobs for $25 per day. According to ThinkProgress, inmates would “compete for jobs around the jail, like cleaning feces and blood off the floor.”
One plaintiff, 23-year-old Sharnalee Mitchell wrote a statement to the court, saying “There were a lot of other women in the City jail, and most of them were desperate to get out, so we were all competing with each other to get the cleaning work so that we could work off our debts more quickly.”
Lorenzo Brown, another plaintiff, told the court that the jail was overcrowded to the point where he was forced to sleep on the floor despite suffering from arthritis.
Debtors’ prisons were abolished in the 1830s. According to CBS News, they are enjoying a resurgence as “thousands of Americans are sent to jail not for committing a crime, but because they can’t afford to pay for traffic tickets, medical bills, and court fees.”
CBS charges that “courts and judges in states across the land are violating the Constitution by incarcerating people unable to pay such debts.”
It’s not just traffic tickets either. Jack Dawley, a 55-year-old unemployed Ohio resident, spent 16 days in jail for not paying $1,500 in legal fines he incurred in the nineties.
Mike Brickner, the director of communications and public policy at ACLU’s Ohio branch, says “If you don’t have resources for an attorney or can’t afford other fees associated with court, you get a different brand of justice. And with the economic downturn over the last 10 years, we’ve seen an increase and resurgence in debtors’ prisons.”