Residents of Ferguson and Jennings have come together to file two federal class-action suits against the Missouri cities because of poor conditions of local jail cells and unconstitutional fines. In one of the suits, the word “grotesque” describes how broken down the cells were and jailed citizens endured the spaces due to not being able to afford the minor offense(s) fines.
The practice of jailing people who cannot afford their fines is unconstitutional and for months this has been happening, on top of the citizens being placed in disgusting rooms. As pointed out by Brendan D. Roediger, of the St. Louis University School of Law (and quoted by The Los Angeles Times): “They’re not sitting [in jail] because they’ve been sentenced to jail for that long. They’re sitting because they can’t pay to get out.”
Tonya DeBerry, a plaintiff, made sure the media also noted how racially disparate the jail cells were. “The jails are only full of black people. That’s what sticks out to me. They are sticking these high fines on poor black people, and they cannot pay, and jailing them like that. They are sticking people in these jails who don’t even have jobs … it’s just horrible.”
The two lawsuits state that cities have taking advantage of the lower class, as The Chicago Tribune included that small suburbs of northern St. Louis (like Jennings) “rely heavily on the fines.” But this also largely affects the “upstanding” citizens of Ferguson and Jennings, who then rack up warrants from payment delays.
Naturally, this is (another) terrible look after everything’s Ferguson’s been though, but its mayor James Knowles III has disputed the claims:
“The city disputes any contention that individuals in any specific economic group were targeted for unfair treatment, that jail detainees are abused in any way, that persons are routinely confined in custody longer than three consecutive days, or that the physical conditions in the jail were unsanitary or unconstitutionally improper.”
The mayor of Jennings has not released a statement yet.
This is the last thing Ferguson should be dealing with. Abusing the public, for what? To make up for budget cuts? The citizens must’ve felt they had no choice but to sue to bring awareness. The judicial parts of Missouri’s cities are still trying to figure out how to better the authoritative watch and leadership of its police department, but they now have this problem to resolve on its hands.