Alabama City Agrees to Pay Dozens Jailed in ‘Debtors Prison’

James' World 2

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A small Alabama town has agreed to dole out $680,000 among nearly 200 poor people it had jailed for failure to pay court fines, settling a case that embodied a national movement to fight what reformers call the criminalization of poverty.

The lawsuit, filed in September 2015 by the Southern Poverty Law Center, alleged that Alexander City ran “a modern-day debtors prison” in which indigent defendants people had to pay off fines by serving time in the municipal jail at a rate of $20 a day.

Almost immediately after the suit was filed, the city of 15,000 changed its policies to allow poor people to pay off fines differently, either in installments or through community work, Alexander City’s lawyer, Larkin Radley, said.




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