Jefferson City, MO (STL.News) – Today, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt praised the Supreme Court of Missouri’s ruling against so-called Debtors’ Prisons in the State of Missouri v. George Richey. Attorney General Schmitt filed an amicus brief in this case on January 7th, arguing that no Missouri statute provides clear authority to consider jail debts as court costs. The Supreme Court of Missouri handed down their decision this afternoon, delivered by Judge Mary Russell.
“Missourians shouldn’t be forced into a cycle of incarceration and used as an ATM simply for being unable to pay jail debts, and classifying jail debts, or board bills, as court costs continues that cycle,” said AG Schmitt. “I’m pleased with the Supreme Court’s ruling – board bills should not be classified as court costs, and modern day ‘debtors’ prisons’ have no place in Missouri.”
In the unanimous decision delivered by the Supreme Court of Missouri this afternoon, all judges decide that the circuit court’s decision be reversed and that all board bill liability for George Richey and John Wright be removed. The Supreme Court of Missouri’s decision stated, “There is no statute expressly authorizing the taxation of jail board bills as court costs.”
Attorney General Schmitt’s January 7 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 indigent individual who is unable to pay.
Schmitt has been fighting debtors’ prisons since he was in the State Senate. Schmitt filed Senate Bill 5 in the wake of the events in Ferguson, which sought to curtail the predatory practices by municipal courts to generate revenues through traffic tickets and other minor traffic violations.