Traffic violators are being held in grotesque conditions in de facto Missouri debtors’ prison

The city of Florissant, a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri, is being sued by five named plaintiffs and others who have been targeted by the city’s de facto debtors’ prison system. Those targeted most often tended to be black and poor, and are arrested using trivial municipal codes and petty justifications.

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A City Near Ferguson Is Still Caging Humans In A 'Grotesque' Debtors' Prison
Lawsuit alleges the city of Florissant was running a "modern debtors' prison scheme" and locking the poor in jail over minor municipal code violations.

“Once locked in the Florissant jail, impoverished people who cannot afford to pay the City endure grotesque treatment. They are kept in overcrowded cells; they are denied toothbrushes, toothpaste, and soap; they are subjected to the constant stench of excrement and refuse in their congested cells; they are kept in the same clothes for days and weeks without access to laundry or shoes or underwear; they step on top of other inmates, whose bodies cover nearly the entire uncleaned cell floor, in order to access a single shared toilet that the City does not clean; illnesses and even infected wounds go untreated and uncovered; they endure days and weeks without being allowed to use the moldy shower; they are housed in short-sleeve jump suits; shoes and flip-flops are not permitted, so those who are not arrested in socks go barefoot on the dirty cement floor; they huddle in cells kept intentionally cold in order to quiet detainees, forced to retreat under a single thin blanket as they beg guards for warmer coverings; they are not given adequate hygiene products for menstruation; they are routinely denied vital medical care and prescription medication, even when their families beg to be allowed to bring medication to the jail; they are provided food so insufficient and lacking in nutrition that inmates lose significant amounts of weight; they suffer from dehydration out of fear of drinking foul smelling water dispensed from an apparatus covered in blood and mucus on top of the toilet, without sufficient pressure to drink from without pressing their lips to the contaminated apparatus; and they must listen to the screams of other inmates languishing from unattended medical issues as they sit in their cells without access to books, or legal materials. Perhaps worst of all, they do not know when they will be allowed to leave their disorienting and timeless cage, deprived of windows and perpetually flooded in florescent light.

Jail guards routinely taunt impoverished people when they are unable to pay for their release,” the suit claims. The lawsuit says that the plaintiffs were “held in jail indefinitely without either the legal representation of the inquiry into their ability to pay guaranteed by the United States Constitution. Instead, they were threatened, abused, and left to languish in confinement until their frightened family members produced enough cash to buy their freedom or until City jail officials decided, days or weeks later, to release them free of charge ― after it had become clear the City would not be able to extract any money from them.  

“This Book originally belonged to the Queen of Naples. It was presented by her to the ill-fated Emma Hamilton, the favourite of Lord Nelson, and the Wife of Lord Hamilton, so many years Ambassador at that Court. See her private Memoirs.”

I suppose the “ill-fated” part refers to the fact that, after Nelson–who never married her–died, “Emma spent a year in a virtual debtors’ prison, in the company of [daughter by Nelson] Horatia, before moving to France (despite the ongoing Napoleonic War) to try to escape her creditors. Turning to drinking, living in poverty in Calais, she died in January 1815, aged 49, of amoebic dysentery.”

The book given to her by Queen Maria Carolina, Queen of Naples and Sicily and sister to the similarly-if-differently ill-fated Marie Antoinette, and to which this instructive note is added is this:

A study of Stoicism perhaps an apt gift for Emma Hamilton. Hopefully, it ended up being a useful one.

  • liberal: debtors prisons are illegal
  • debtors: actually you can be incarcerated if you can't afford court assigned fees this is super common.
  • debtors: also you can be incarcerated if you can't afford student loan debts in some states
  • liberal: yeah but those are criminals so ...... it doesn't count because they need to be punished for their sins.

Civil Rights Attorneys Sue Ferguson Over ‘Debtors Prisons’
Joseph Shapiro
In a new challenge to police practices in Ferguson, Mo., a group of civil rights lawyers is suing the city over the way people are jailed when they fail to pay fines for traffic tickets and other minor offenses.
The lawsuit, filed Sunday night on the eve of the six-month anniversary of the police shooting of Michael Brown, alleges that the city violates the Constitution by jailing people without adequately considering whether they were indigent and, as a result, unable to pay.
The suit is filed on behalf of 11 plaintiffs who say they were too poor to pay but were then jailed — sometimes for two weeks or more.

NPR got an advance look at the lawsuit, filed by lawyers from Equal Justice Under Law, ArchCity Defenders and the Saint Louis University School of Law. It charges that Ferguson officials “have built a municipal scheme designed to brutalize, to punish, and to profit.”
In 2013, Ferguson collected $2.6 million in court fines and fees, mainly on traffic violations and other low-level municipal offenses. That was the city’s second-largest source of income, or about 21 percent of its total budget.
The lawsuit challenges the practice of jailing people when they can’t afford to pay those fines. When tickets go unpaid, people are summoned to court and usually offered a new payment plan. If they fail to show up or make the new payments, the city issues an arrest warrant.
In 2013, Ferguson, a city with a population of 21,000, issued nearly 33,000 arrest warrants for unpaid traffic violations and other minor offenses. Many of those were for people who lived outside the city.
READ MORE (and prepare to be filled with rage…)

If you think Ferguson is the only city this kind of injustice is occurring in, think again. It’s probably happening in your own city, if you live State-side. The criminal justice system has been increasingly criminalizing poverty over the last 3 decades, and with the boom of the private prison system, it’s only going to get worse. The time for action is now. More than just protesting, we have to start attacking the laws and policy that allows these miscarriages of justice to occur. #staywoke #farfromover

“Come out of the circle of time and into the circle of Love.” (Rumi)

Commentary: “Time” has some heavy metaphysical baggage in our school of spirituality. The circle of Time is the realm of the Negative Power, Kal Niranjan, the Demiurge of the Gnostics, a false god and cosmic accountant keeping score of our karmic sins and finding all to come up short in a rigged system designed to keep souls right where they are incarnation after incarnation, a debtor’s prison of souls. Time is the cruel hand of fate, the oppressive influence of the stars. The circle of Love is far beyond all those archon rulers. It is the Ocean of Love and All-Consciousness.

Masters say it is a good idea to meditate everyday to lighten the load of karma. The inner currents of Sound and Light wash away karma and give us more Divine Grace, thus uplifting our destiny to the highest good. The Force known as Shabd Naam (Divine Sound and Light) coming from Above, busts into the world of time and space, freeing souls from the law of karma. We become what we see. If we contemplate the Light of God….we become That.

A mid-Victorian depiction of the debtors’ prison at St Briavels Castle
A debtors’ prison is a prison for people who are unable to pay debt. These prisons have been used since ancient times. Through the mid 19th century, debtors’ prisons were a common way to deal with unpaid debt in Western Europe. Though increasing access and lenience throughout the history of bankruptcy law have rendered debtors’ prisons irrelevant over most of the world, as of May 2013, they persist in countries such as the United States, United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong, and Greece.

Aphra Behn (1640-1689)

Art by histoireinsolite (tumblr)

Born into obscurity, Aphra Behnbecame one of the most important dramatists of the seventeenth century.  Prior to beginning her writing career, Aphra served as spy for Charles II during the Anglo-Dutch Wars.  She also spent time in debtor’s prison and the need for financial security was a driving force in her writing career.  Her first play, The Forc’d Marriage, was produced in London in 1670 when she was approximately 30 years old.  

A prolific writer, Aphra wrote plays, novels, poems, and short stories, in addition to translating works from French and Latin.  Her writings often alluded to sexual desire including same sex attraction, controversial themes for a seventeenth century female writer. Her best-known work today is Oroonoko, a sympathetic story about an enslaved African man.

Aphra Behn’s career created opportunities for later female writers.  In A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf wrote, “All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn which is, most scandalously but rather appropriately, in Westminster Abbey, for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds.”


(by Catherine Thorbecke)

A man who stole $5 worth of food to feed his family was thrown in jail when he could not pay court costs, according to a lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center on Tuesday.

The lawsuit claims that a judge in Bogalusa, Louisiana – about an hour and half north of New Orleans – runs a “modern-day debtors’ prison, jailing the poor for their failure to pay.”

Rozzie Scott was arrested in February for stealing $5 worth of ground beef and pizza to feed his family, Southern Poverty Law Center spokeswoman Cindy Kent told ABC News today. Judge Robert J. Black found him guilty in May and ordered him to pay a fine of $450, plus costs, by June 13, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit states that on June 13, Scott returned to court and told Black he did not have the money to pay the court. Black then asked Scott if he could pay a $50 extension fee, which would buy Scott a few more weeks to pay. When Scott said he could not, he was put in jail for four hours until his cousin paid the extension fee, according to the lawsuit.

Scott said in a declaration for the Southern Poverty Law Center that he lives in public housing with his grandmother and is currently unemployed and job searching. He struggles each month to pay for the most basic living expenses for him and his family.

Kent said that Scott felt remorseful after stealing the food to feed his family, and went back to the store owner to apologize after the incident.

Scott is set to appear back in court on July 25, but has not found a job yet.

“I am scared I will be arrested and thrown in jail because I cannot pay the fine plus costs and do not believe Judge Black will treat me fairly because he only seems interested in getting money for the City Court,” Scott said in the declaration.

Scott’s case is one of four in the lawsuit brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which claims that Bogalusa City Court uses court costs and fees to cover budget shortfalls.

“The City Court routinely covers at least 15 percent of its expenditures through income it generates from criminal defendants,” the lawsuit states. “This structural conflict of interest creates an incentive for Defendant Black to find individuals guilty and to coerce payment through the threat of jail. Without this money, the City Court could not function.”

The lawsuit also alleges Black created an “illegal $50 extension fee to buy additional time to pay their monetary penalty” that is not authorized by state law. Defendants who can’t pay their fines and fees are faced with the “false choice” of either going to jail or paying the extension fee, the lawsuit contends.

Nearly 36 percent of the population lives below the poverty line in Bogalusa, according to Sam Brooke, deputy legal director at the Southern Poverty Law Center.

(continue reading)




Ferguson “debtors prisons” targeting low-income African-Americans – civil rights lawyers