A group of 15 residents have filed lawsuits against the towns of Ferguson and Jennings, Missouri.
The lawsuits claim that the towns' officials are targeting black people with a modern debtors’ prison scheme that locks up poor and homeless African Americans in overcrowded, unsanitary jail cells because they can't pay traffic citations and other minor offenses, notes The New York Times.
The Ferguson residents claim that they were held for weeks without lawyers or court hearings to determine if they had the financial means to pay their fines and court fees.
The Jennings residents say they were jailed in an effort by the city to force them to pay their fines, regardless of guilt or innocence. They also say that cops and prison guards changed the amounts that they owed for their violations.
The lawsuits were filed on behalf of the residents by Equal Justice Under Law, ArchCity Defenders and the Saint Louis University School of Law Legal Clinics, noted MSNBC.
ArchCity Defenders claims that citations are the second largest source of income for the City of Ferguson and that Ferguson police issued an average of almost three warrants per household last year, noted Democracy Now (video below).