They are unconstitutional. They are against state law. And yet, debtors’ prisons – jailing people because they are too poor to pay their court fines – are common across Ohio, according to a report released today by the ACLU of Ohio.
Most people who receive a traffic ticket or a fine related to a criminal conviction simply pay it and move on with their lives. But for the poor, court fines and fees may be completely unaffordable. Thirty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional to imprison debtors simply because they cannot pay court fines or fees. State law in Ohio also requires that a judge determine whether a person can pay a fine before she is jailed. Nonetheless, many courts throughout the state are simply ignoring the law and routinely incarcerating people multiple times for failing to pay their fines.