On March 18, Racial Justice Program Senior Attorney Nusrat Choudhury testified before the United States Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) for its briefing on “Municipal Policing and Courts: A Search for Justice or a Quest for Revenue.”
Her testimony highlighted the problem of modern-day debtors’ prisons and the ACLU’s federal lawsuit Kennedy v. City of Biloxi, which challenged the illegal arrest and jailing of poor people in Biloxi, Mississippi, without a hearing or representation by counsel. During the briefing, commissioners generally praised the Biloxi settlement agreement, with Commissioner Kladney specifically noting that the reforms adopted in the agreement should be replicated elsewhere.
Nearly two centuries ago, the United States formally abolished the incarceration of people who failed to pay off debts. Yet, recent years have witnessed the rise of modern-day debtors' prisons—the arrest and jailing of poor people for failure to pay legal debts they can never hope to afford, through criminal justice procedures that violate their most basic rights.