University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name Bell v. City of Jackson JC-MS-0024
Docket / Court 3:15-cv-732-TSL-RHW ( S.D. Miss. )
State/Territory Mississippi
Case Type(s) Jail Conditions
Special Collection Criminalization of poverty
Attorney Organization Equal Justice Under Law
Case Summary
On October 9, 2015, seven impoverished people who were incarcerated by the City of Jackson, Mississippi filed this class action lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, 18 U.S.C. § 1595, and 28 U.S.C. § 2201 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District Court of Mississippi. The plaintiffs alleged ... read more >
On October 9, 2015, seven impoverished people who were incarcerated by the City of Jackson, Mississippi filed this class action lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, 18 U.S.C. § 1595, and 28 U.S.C. § 2201 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District Court of Mississippi. The plaintiffs alleged that they were imprisoned because they were unable to pay debts owed to the City for traffic violations and other misdemeanor offenses. As a result, the plaintiffs argued that the City violated their Sixth, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth Amendment Rights. The plaintiffs, represented by counsel from the MacArthur Justice Center and Equal Justice Under Law, asked the court for declaratory and injunctive relief and monetary damages.

The plaintiffs alleged that they were indigent citizens who had outstanding debts payable to the City stemming from minor offenses. Many of them are disabled. The City allegedly presented the plaintiffs with the option to “pay or stay,” meaning they could either pay off the money owed to the City or be incarcerated to pay off their debts. The plaintiffs were allegedly forced to sit out their debts in the Hinds County Jail at a rate of $25.00 per day since they were unable to pay. There was an option for the plaintiffs to “work off” their debts at the Hinds County Penal Farm at a rate of $58.00 per day; however, some of the plaintiffs were unable to do so due to their disabilities. Allegedly, City officials did not review the plaintiffs’ ability to pay or other alternatives to imprisonment, such as community service, prior to their incarceration.

Less than a month later, the parties’ filed notice with the court that the parties were attempting to settle the case and requested additional time for negotiations instead of scheduling discovery or any additional motions. After several request for more time, the parties notified the court on June 9, 2016, that the case had settled.

On June 20, 2016, District Judge Tom Lee signed off on a joint settlement agreement. The City agreed to a declaratory judgment acknowledging that it is unconstitutional to incarcerate someone simply because she does not have the ability to pay. In all misdemeanor cases moving forward, the City agreed to not detain or incarcerate individuals because they lack the ability to pay fines. Instead, these individuals will be given the option of participating in a community service program in lieu of being incarcerated. Additionally, future defendants will not be incarcerated unless the City finds it is necessary to do so after there has been a hearing and the defendants have access to counsel. The City is required to make determinations about defendants’ ability to pay on a case-by-case basis; judges are to consider financial hardships when sentencing and determining community service requirements. Furthermore, the City agreed to develop training programs so its employees comply with the settlement agreement and to make accommodations so people with disabilities are able to participate in the community service program.

The City agreed to implement the entire settlement within 120 days, and to meet with the plaintiffs' counsel every three months for the first two years after entry of the settlement to discuss ongoing compliance issues. The Court retained jurisdiction to enforce the settlement, which has no specified end date.

The Professional Bail Agents Association of Mississippi filed a motion to intervene on June 28, 2016 after the settlement agreement was signed. This non-profit disputed the settlement agreement’s provisions regarding monetary bail in municipal court. This motion was denied on August 25, 2016.

Amelia Huckins - 02/05/2017


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Equal Protection
Content of Injunction
Training
Defendant-type
Jurisdiction-wide
Disability
disability, unspecified
General
Conditions of confinement
Over/Unlawful Detention
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201
Defendant(s) City of Jackson, Mississippi
Plaintiff Description Seven impoverished people who were incarcerated by the City of Jackson, Mississippi because they were unable to pay debts allegedly owed to the City for traffic violations and other misdemeanor offenses
Indexed Lawyer Organizations Equal Justice Under Law
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Declaratory Judgment
Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Order Duration 2016 - n/a
Case Closing Year 2016
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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  Bravo v. Board of Commissioners of Dona Ana County
http://www.bazelon.org/
Date: 2017
By: The Bazelon Center (The Bazelon Center)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Docket(s)
3:15-cv-732 (S.D. Miss.)
JC-MS-0024-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/25/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Class Action Complaint [ECF# 1]
JC-MS-0024-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 10/09/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Summons in a Civil Action [ECF# 2]
JC-MS-0024-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 10/09/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Settlement Agreement [ECF# 14]
JC-MS-0024-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/20/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judges Lee, Tom Stewart (S.D. Miss.)
JC-MS-0024-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Howard, Jacob W. (Mississippi)
JC-MS-0024-0002 | JC-MS-0024-9000
Johnson, J. Clifton II (Mississippi)
JC-MS-0024-0002 | JC-MS-0024-9000
Karakatsanis, Alec (District of Columbia)
JC-MS-0024-0002 | JC-MS-0024-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Jackson-Winters, LaShundra B. (Mississippi)
JC-MS-0024-9000
Lowery, Gail Wright (Mississippi)
JC-MS-0024-9000
Other Lawyers Smith, Christopher E. (Mississippi)
JC-MS-0024-9000

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