A human rights group has settled a lawsuit with a South Georgia city for detaining people too poor to pay court-ordered fees and fines.
Under the agreement reached between the Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights and the city of Bainbridge, the latter agreed to reform policies and procedures surrounding the collection of court and probation fees for misdemeanor crimes. Among them, the city can no longer hold people in court or jail who can't make day-of-court payments. It’s also prohibited from jailing people just for failing to pay, unless failure to pay is willful.
“We appreciate the fact that when confronted with the lawsuit, the city of Bainbridge did the right thing and came to the table to make the reforms that were required to improve fairness in the courts,” said Sarah Geraghty, an attorney with the Southern Center for Human Rights.
The original suit was filed in April against Bainbridge, along with the city of Pelham and private probation company Red Hills Community Probation. It alleged Red Hills regularly demanded large amounts of money from people found guilty of misdemeanors, and that the company would seize and detain individuals in the courthouses of Bainbridge and Pelham until they or family members could pay any fees and fines.
In May, Bainbridge dropped its contract with Red Hills. The company, which oversaw misdemeanor probation supervision for five small courts, has since closed.
In a statement, Bainbridge City Manager Chris Hobby said the city is “committed to moving forward in an efficient and legally correct manner.”
“We are very pleased to have this matter settled and are grateful to the Southern Center for Human Rights for bringing a situation we were previously unaware of to our attention,” Hobby said. “We very much enjoyed working with the Southern Center personnel to resolve this matter.”
While Bainbridge has settled in the case, the suit continues for Red Hills and the city of Pelham.