ACLU catches Ohio jailing those too poor to pay fines

AFP Photo / Karen BleierRT News

A new ACLU report accuses Ohio courts of imprisoning people who are unable to pay court fees. The group, which claims to have found evidence in seven counties, likened the practice to a resurgence of debtor’s prisons – which were outlawed by the 1830s.

Entitled “The Outskirts of Hope,” the report also accuses Ohio judges of consistently denying those locked up in such circumstances court hearings to prove their financial status.  

Supreme Court precedent and Ohio law make clear that local courts and jails should not function as debtors’ prisons,” said American Civil Liberties Union staff attorney Carl Takei. “Yet many mayors’ courts and some municipal courts jail people without making any attempt whatsoever to determine whether they can afford to pay their fines.

Being poor is not a crime in this country,” said ACLU staff attorney Richard Goodman, who was quoted in the group’s announcement. “Incarcerating people who cannot afford to pay fines is both unconstitutional and cruel – it takes a tremendous toll on precisely those families already struggling the most.”

Maureen O’Connor, Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court, told the ACLU on Wednesday that she would investigate the matter.

The ACLU reported that 22% of all bookings in the Huron County jail between May 2012 and October 2012 were in some way related to an inmate’s failure to pay a court debt. The Outskirts of Hope also indicates that between July 15 and August 31, 2012, Parma Municipal Court (in suburban Cleveland) jailed at least 45 defendants for their inability to pay a fine while a Sandusky court locked up 75 people for the same reason.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that it costs Ohio taxpayers between $50 and $75 to jail person for one night. With an average fine of around $900, in some cases that cost eventually totals more than the unpaid fine itself. Seemingly unaware of the report, Parma Municipal Court judge Deanna O’Donnell told reporters that if there was evidence to prove the ACLU’s claim, then the courts would “fix it.”

Still, despite only focusing on seven counties, ACLU Director of Communications and Public Policy Mike Brickner warned that the problem is widespread across Ohio.

Not only are those courts violating the law, they are losing money doing it,” he said. “These practices are legally prohibited, morally questionable, and financially unsound. Nevertheless, they appear to be alive and well in Ohio. It’s like something out of a Charles Dickens novel.”

4 thoughts on “ACLU catches Ohio jailing those too poor to pay fines

  1. Let me tell you that when I was in Williamson County, TX holding center the one night, there was one person who was arrested for drug possession and the remaining 10 people were arrested for suspended licenses, missing their court date because they had school and even called them in to tell them that he had no ride to the court and they still arrested him again and fined him, another was arrested for filming a cop with his cell phone, not having his license’s plate hanging correctly or driving on a suspended license. With the exception of the one drug addict, ALL WERE NON-VIOLENT CRIMES!!!, including me not allowing them to search my car without a warrant. It’s insanity and is cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by our 8th amendment along with excessive fines and bails brought on by it by the police. And the poor being arrested for not paying fines is pure proof of it.

    Let’s take a look for a moment:

    1st Amendment – Freedom of Speech.

    “Officer why are you arresting or fining me? I’m doing nothing wrong. I’m not hurting anyone.” Officer: “Shut up and do as you are told”.

    2nd Amendment – Right to bear Arms.

    “Do you have a gun? Yes? Well, then I am going to have to confiscate that and arrest you for possession of a firearm.”

    3rd Amendment – Quartering of Soldiers

    TSA and DHS housed everywhere.

    4th Amendment – Protection from illegal search and seizure.

    “If you don’t let me search your car, I’m going to arrest you for failure to cooperate with a police officer.”

    5th Amendment – Miranda Rights

    “Officer, what am I being arrested for?”
    Officer: “Oh so you are a lawyer now? Haha! I don’t have to tell you anything. Shut up and tell it to the judge.”

    6th Amendment – Right to a speedy trial by jury

    You get arrested in March.

    Court magistrate: “Your trial date will begin in May or June and then we’ll decide your outcome and punishment.”

    2-6 months later you are finally getting your trial and no jury and only a judge that sentence’s you.

    7th Amendment – Trial by Jury

    No trial by jury. Only a judge.

    “Your honor, I would like to request a trial by jury.”
    Judge: “Are you questioning me? You either do what I tell you or you can find yourself in contempt or in prison for an indefinite period of time. Are we clear?”

    8th Amendment – Excessive bail and cruel and unusual punishment

    “Sorry officer, I don’t give you consent to search my car.”

    Officer calls for back-up and pulls out his tasing and points it in your face. Then drags you out of the car and beats the living shit out of you.

    “You are charged with “interfering with a public servant” and your fine for bail is now almost 2000 dollars.”

    9th amendment – Protect rights not Enumerated under the constitution

    Officer: “You have no rights. That’s what this uniform and this badge of mine says. It says, I give the orders and you obey. That’s how this works.”

    10th amendment – Limits the powers of the Federal Government and assigns the rest for the states decide.

    DHS telling policeman, “People who question you are sovereign citizens and anti-government and should be treated as a threat.”

  2. AHH!!…..I get it now. These poor people must be those “non-violent terrorists” that old Janet Napolitano was talking about. It makes so much sense now. (sarcasm)

  3. My husband and I were arrested in DC back in December 2001. We were just walking down the street in Georgetown and a cop yells at us to “get on your knees!!!!!”. We had just left a bar, had a loaf of french bread in our hands and were laughing at some internal joke. My husband says, “I have done nothing wrong…and started to repeat his name and social security number after the cop STRONG ARMED him to the ground. I have a panic disorder. so I am screaming and yelling, “what is going on!!!???” next thing, I am on the ground and hog tied. 12 cop cars show up. We ended up being drug to jail, spend 3 days there, (I was locked up in a dungeon because I was freaking out). My husband was told I was being charged with assault on a police officer. (I was in my mid 30’s, fat, slow and disabled). I had done nothing but freak out, (I have PTSD and am bi-polar), by screaming, “stop beating my husband!!!” My husband was told he could go if he consented to the fact that I assaulted an officer. My husband told then BS…and we spent a weekend in jail with no food, no heat and we were placed at separate locations with REAL criminals. We had no choice but to plead no contest because we were threatened with felonies if we didn’t plea bargain…we both had lives and good reputations/jobs to protect…so we pled no contest…even though we were beaten, dragged to jail and while drunk drivers and theives were released from jail, we were “punished” because we were in town because we were protesting the war…and we dared stand up for our rights.
    this was in 2001…when I wrote on blogs about our experience…and I stated that THIS police state was coming to America to stay…i was laughed at and called a tin foil hat conspiracy theorist….well now here we are……..
    This is what fascism looks like…..

    remember the cold war? people had to LEAVE America because they were accused of being communists…
    Now…if we love freedom…the Constitution….our RIGHTS….we are “anti-government terrorists”
    Welcome to the world we all were warned was coming and ignored……

    I have no sympathy…….we were warned and chose to follow American Idol or play video games instead of watch out what was happening to our rights

    1. This is not fascism, this is communism. Soviet socialist stalinism, marxism, and leninism, this is fabian socialism on steroids. And quite frankly, if our grandfathers would have killed the communist infiltrators back then, we would still be living in a fairly decent country.

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