View Full Version : Missery Piglice State

jewplin Glob
12-18-2018, 11:48 PM
Our view: Court stops debt trap


It is an undesirable room no one wants stay in that comes with a high price tag; once you stay there, if you don’t pay the bill, the establishment can confine and hold you as the bill continues to grow larger.

That’s what has been happening in a number of counties in Missouri to those who have been arrested and checked into jail. Sheriffs are permitted under state law to charge those who are booked into their jails for services provided — basically room and board. In many jurisdictions, those who have been released yet fail to pay promptly have been hauled back to court. If they then couldn’t make payment, they have been locked back up. Back in jail, the bill would continue to increase while the likelihood that those locked up would be able to pay fell.

That changed Tuesday with a ruling from a Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District, panel. The appeals court ruled that state courts may not impose jail time for failure to pay jail board costs.

The ruling came after ongoing reporting in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch brought attention to the issue and numerous columns by Post-Dispatch columnist Tony Messenger condemned the practice he characterized as “debtors’ prison.”

The label is appropriate. Messenger’s commentary revealed the bills for board frequently exceeded the fines imposed, and the jail time for nonpayment was often longer than the incarceration — sometimes none — required for the offense. Reporting showed that circuit courts collected and sent more than $100,000 each in jail board fees to 11 Missouri counties.

While the idea of a prisoner paying for his stay has its attraction, the jurisdictions in question operated a system that was, in effect, a debtors’ prison. The Missouri Constitution holds “That no person shall be imprisoned for debt, except for nonpayment of fines and penalties imposed by law.”

This case shows both the power of the news media to call out unfair practices and abuses, and the court system’s ability to right itself. The counties engaged in the abusive practice thought to slide in under the “fines and penalties” phrase in the constitution. The court’s ruling stops that. While the ruling could be appealed, it is good that the practice has been ended.

Jasper and Newton counties could have been involved in the practice. It speaks well for area sheriffs and county officials that they were not. Offenders should pay the price for their offense, not be dragged down in an endless spiral of bills for jail board.

Let’s not operate a jail system where you can check in, but you can't check out.