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Louisiana judge agrees to temporarily halt debtors’ prison practices following SPLC suit

A city judge in Bogalusa, La., has agreed to temporarily stop jailing indigent people who can’t pay fines or court costs and to stop collecting extension fees and court costs that fund his court, according to a joint agreement filed today in federal court.

The agreement, which is in effect through early September while settlement discussions are underway, comes less than a week after the SPLC filed a federal class action lawsuit on behalf of four plaintiffs over the city court’s operation of a modern-day debtors’ prison. One plaintiff was sent to jail for being unable to pay a fine for stealing $5 of food to feed his family.

“Nobody should be jailed or threatened with jail if they are too poor to pay a fine,” said Sam Brooke, SPLC deputy legal director. “We’re pleased that Judge Black is taking steps to ensure people are treated fairly regardless of their economic status and that he has agreed to temporarily stop collecting court costs and fees that fund the city court.

“Funding the justice system on the backs of the poor is fundamentally unfair and creates a systemic incentive to find people guilty. We’re pleased that this has stopped, and hope this is the start to a solution that will ensure an impartial court of justice.”

As part of the agreement, Judge Robert J. Black is required to give the SPLC a copy of the court’s jail logs, income reports, and, if requested, court records for any defendants named in the logs, so that SPLC can monitor the court’s compliance with the agreement.

Cover Image: Scott Threlkeld