NEW ORLEANS — A city court in Louisiana has agreed to refund $50 fees collected from defendants who paid the money to avoid being jailed for other unpaid court penalties.
Bogalusa City Court’s agreement settles part of a 2016 lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center. It’s one of several similar actions filed against various courts accused of running what amount to debtors’ prisons. The allegations are that low-income defendants are illegally jailed when they cannot pay monetary penalties.
In Louisiana, similar lawsuits are pending in diverse jurisdictions including Bossier Parish in the northwest corner of the state and in New Orleans. In Alabama, SPLC announced a settlement in March with the town of Alexander City, where a lawsuit said people were jailed for being too poor to pay fines and fees for traffic tickets and misdemeanor offenses.
Bogalusa is about 70 miles, north-northeast of New Orleans, near the Mississippi state line. The suit said some defendants in the city’s court avoided jail by paying $50 “extension fees.”
The settlement filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in New Orleans outlines a process for refunds. The city court was dismissed from the suit as part of the settlement.
However, the suit continues against a city judge over his imposition of jail time for those owing penalties.
“This agreement is an important step forward, but a small step,” SPLC deputy legal director Sam Brooke said in a Thursday emailed statement. “The rest of our case will go forward because we believe serious unconstitutional practices are likely to continue in the court.”