The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio says municipal courts across the state are illegally - and routinely - jailing people who cannot afford to pay fines for low level criminal offenses.
ACLU attorneys say in 2012 they began tracking data and on-line docket reports at Norwalk Municipal Court, and found that 22 percent of the people who went through the Huron County jail were there because they could not afford to pay their fines. Then, says attorney Mike Brickner, they expanded their investigation to 11 other counties, including Cuyahoga and Erie.
BRICKNER: "During a 45 day period, the Parma Municipal Court jailed 45 people for failing to pay their fines. In Sandusky municipal court in Erie County, they jailed 75 people for failing to pay their fines in a 45 day period."
Brickner says jailing people simply because they are unable to pay their fines traps people in a cycle of delinquency and incarceration. He says it constitutes debtors' prison activity that violates the Ohio and U.S. constitutions and Ohio law.
The ACLU has sent letters to seven municipal courts, including the court in Parma, asking that they discontinue the practice. It also sent a letter to Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor asking the high court to intervene. In a return letter O'Connor has agreed to meet with the group to discuss its findings.