Debtors Prisons Trapping Americans In a Spiral of Debt Slavery

Erik de la Garza | Courthouse News Service

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (CN) — A federal class action filed Tuesday accuses an Arkansas city and district court judge of running a debtors’ prison that traps poor residents into a never-ending spiral of incarceration and debt.

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday on behalf of four Sherwood, Arkansas residents who claim their constitutional rights were violated by the Hot Check Division of the Sherwood District Court, where a $15 returned check can mushroom “into many thousands of dollars in court costs, fines and fees.”

Nikki Rachelle Petree, 40, one of the lead plaintiffs, says she wrote a single check for $28.93 in 2011 that was returned for insufficient funds.

Since then she has been arrested at least seven times, jailed for over 25 days, and paid approximately $640, but is still currently jailed because she can’t come up with the nearly $2,700 in court costs, fines and fees.

The class sued Sherwood, Pulaski County, and Judge Milas Hale III, who presides over the Sherwood District Court, in Arkansas Federal Court.

“The defendants are being jailed due to their poverty,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

“In our view the Sherwood County District Court of Arkansas epitomizes the criminalization of poverty and the corrupting effect of financial incentives on our local courts,” she said.

According to the lawsuit, Sherwood, pop. 29,500, Pulaski County and their officials engaged in a policy of jailing poor individuals who owe court fines, fees and costs stemming from misdemeanor “hot check” convictions with no regard for their ability to pay.

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Filming Cops
Filming Cops 3206 posts

Filming Cops was started in 2010 as a conglomerative blogging service documenting police abuse. The aim isn’t to demonize the natural concept of security provision as such, but to highlight specific cases of State-monopolized police brutality that are otherwise ignored by traditional media outlets.

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