JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Attorney General Eric Schmitt filed an amicus brief on Monday in the Supreme Court of Missouri that seeks to end the practice of modern-day debtors’ prisons.
The brief, filed in Richey v. State of Missouri, states that it is the opinion of the Attorney General that there is no statutory authority to classify jail debts, or more commonly known as “board bills” for jail time, as court costs or fines. This is the first amicus brief that Schmitt has filed as Missouri’s Attorney General.
“Courts should not be using the threat of jail time to generate funds for bloated big government budgets when other means of collection exist,” said Schmitt. “De facto debtors’ prisons have no place in Missouri, and I am proud to stand up against a system that seeks to treat its poorer citizens as ATMs.”
The brief states that no Missouri statute provides clear authority to consider jail debts as court costs. When jail debt is considered a court cost, an individual who is delinquent in paying his or her fine could be incarcerated. The brief also argues that there is a clear and specific method for collection of jail debts through civil collection practices, which does not include harsher methods of collection such as incarceration for an indigent individual who is unable to pay.
Schmitt has been at the forefront of reforming modern-day debtors’ prisons. Following the events in Ferguson in 2014, Schmitt worked with community leaders to address the debtors’ prison scheme where citizens were incarcerated for being unable to pay the fines associated with the minor traffic violations. In Senate Bill 5, Schmitt brought together both sides of the aisle to pass legislation that would curtail these predatory practices by municipal courts to generate revenues through traffic tickets and other minor traffic violations.
A copy of the brief can be found here.