Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt has filed a brief in the state Supreme Court aiming to end the practice of “modern-day debtors’ prisons”. In a press release, Schmitt says he opposes jailing people who cannot pay fines for traffic violations and other minor offenses.

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt (photo courtesy of the Treasurer’s office)

“Courts should not be using the threat of jail time to generate funds for bloated big government budgets when other means of collection exist,” says Schmitt. “De facto debtors’ prisons have no place in Missouri, and I am proud to stand up against a system that seeks to treat its poorer citizens as ATMs.”

The brief states that no Missouri statute provides clear authority to consider jail debts as court costs. When jail debt is considered a court cost, an individual who is delinquent in paying his or her fine could be incarcerated.

The brief also argues that there is a clear and specific method for collection of jail debts through civil collection practices, which does not include harsher methods of collection such as incarceration for an individual who is unable to pay.

Schmitt, a Republican from the St. Louis suburb of Glendale, is no stranger to curtailing predatory practices by municipal courts wanting to boost revenue. While in the Missouri Senate, he sponsored legislation to address citizens that were being jailed if they couldn’t afford to pay fines for minor traffic violations. The Legislature passed the measure, known as Senate Bill 5.

Schmitt was sworn in as Missouri’s attorney general last Thursday.

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