Many Texas municipal courts unfairly jail poor defendants who can’t pay fines related to traffic tickets and fail to consider their ability to pay such fines or consider alternatives such as community service to resolve their cases, says the American Civil Liberties Union, the Associated Press reports. The ACLU of Texas filed a federal lawsuit last week against the southeast Texas city of Santa Fe, accusing it of running a modern-day debtors’ prison and “prioritizing raising revenue for the city over administering justice fairly.”
Officials of the Texas Judicial Council and the Texas Municipal Courts Association said they’re aware of problems associated with poor defendants not being able to pay fines and court costs and are hoping to work with lawmakers during next year’s legislative session on the issues. Of 766 municipal courts in Texas the ACLU reviewed that individually settled or resolved at least 100 cases in the past year, the median rate at which these courts allowed people to perform community service was 0.2 percent. More than half of the municipal courts declined to waive any amount of fines and fees associated with these cases for people living in poverty. “Most or nearly all courts across the state are jailing people without doing a serious inquiry into the ability to pay (fines), as required by law,” said the ACLU’s Trisha Trigilio.