City of Biloxi Settles with ACLU
The City of Biloxi and the American Civil Liberties Union have settled a lawsuit claiming the city was operating a “debtor’s prison” to the amount of $75,000 and a few operational changes.
Biloxi has agreed to adopt sweeping reforms to protect the rights of people who cannot afford to pay fines and fees imposed by Biloxi’s municipal court for traffic and other misdemeanor offenses. These changes include hiring a full-time public defender to represent people charged with non-payment, no additional fees imposed on people who enter payment plans, community service as a potential alternative and more.
City of Biloxi attorney Gerald Blessey said, “We think this is a procedure that guarantees constitutional rights to all defendants, not just indigent but all defendants and also as a practical way for managing the fine collection system for the city that deters crime. You still have to pay the penalty but it may be community service rather than a cash payment.”
Blessey also says it will cost the city nearly $355,000 a year for the additional staff needed to make these changes.