Sarah Ford | April 23, 2014

Stories from the field: Alabama city operates modern-day ‘debtors’ prison’

Source: Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)

By Jacob Denney

I was preparing to leave the municipal courtroom in Montgomery, Ala., when the bailiff announced that the inmates were being brought in.

A handful of men entered the courtroom. Handcuffed and shackled, they shuffled to a long bench and sat down. One by one, they were called before the municipal judge. None was appointed an attorney. Most had been arrested for warrants relating to unpaid traffic tickets. The judge asked if they had the money to pay the balance. Most didn’t. When they couldn’t pay, he sentenced them to jail to serve out their fines – one day for every $50.

One of the last called was a young man who appeared to be in his early 20s. He wore a jumper that looked at least two sizes too big; he hung his head when the judge spoke to him. His mother, who had been waiting inside the courtroom, rushed up the aisle to be with him. The young man owed $2,736 in old traffic tickets and misdemeanor fines.

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