Tuesday, February 10, 2015

you can't squeeze blood out of turnips...,


NYTimes |  St. Louis County is a web of 90 municipalities. For those with unpaid traffic debts and arrest warrants in multiple towns, a trip to one jail often means a journey, over days or weeks, through others as each jurisdiction seeks a payment for release until a court date or a payment of old fines.

Keilee Fant, a nursing assistant with nine children, has been locked up repeatedly. She said her problems began with traffic violations decades ago, then intensified as she was unable to pay the fines, often did not go to court because she feared the repercussions and kept driving. At one point in 2013, Ms. Fant was held for several weeks on warrants, as city after city called on her to put up hundreds of dollars in what court officials describe as a bond, though the amounts, she said, seemed to change and appeared to be a matter of negotiation with jail officials.

“I was bouncing from place to place, and all I could think was: ‘Wait, I’m in here for traffic. I haven’t killed anybody,’ ” Ms. Fant, who is 37 and a plaintiff in both lawsuits, said.

“If I don’t have any money, they send me to jail, so why is it so important to show up if you’re going to send me back to jail?” she said. “All I want is my license back. My license and my life.”

The lawsuits were filed on behalf of the plaintiffs by representatives from the Equal Justice Under Law, a nonprofit civil rights organization in Washington; ArchCity Defenders, a nonprofit group in St. Louis; and St. Louis University Law School. They seek to bar the cities from continuing the practices and compensation for people whose rights were violated.

In some cases, the suits say, prisoners have gone without showers, toothbrushes, sufficient blankets or sanitary napkins; medical care has been denied; and food, often honey buns and potpies, has been scanty.

In Ferguson, some residents say the authorities seem to have eased off at times since Mr. Brown’s death on Aug. 9 set off months of demonstrations. In a series of changes discussed at the City Council meeting in September, officials said they would end several fees that had been routinely issued if a defendant failed to show up in court and would start a special docket for those who had trouble making payments on their fines.

That is little comfort to Roelif Carter, who is 62 and has been arrested on warrants by the authorities in Ferguson at least three times. The counts he has faced include violating a dog leash law and resisting arrest.

“It’s the same old thing, just a different day,” Mr. Carter, who is unemployed, said. “It’s making me feel like you can’t trust them. There’s no way you could work off the anger.”