The Obama Justice Department issued in 2016, a letter condemning debtor’s prisons that have existed in a dozen states ( i.e. Alabama, Georgia, etc.). The letter was a response to the ACLU and other groups investigative efforts which revealed, that poor people were incarcerated without a hearing, because of their inability to pay fines, fees for traffic tickets, fees for other civil infractions, and bail for minor criminal offenses.
Sessions, during the end of the 2017 holiday season, rescinded the 2016 Obama Justice Department letter which opposed debtor’s prisons. Sessions claimed that such Justice Department’s letters overreached the Justice Department’s authority. Sessions, a former Alabama Senator, by rescinding the 2016 letter, opposed Alabama’s efforts at justice .reform.
The Alabama Legislature had recently proposed a bill, that municipal courts would no longer be able to jail defendants accused of misdemeanors, because they were unable financially to pay bail.
Alabama Senate Bill 31 would eliminate requiring defendants in municipal courts to pay bail ( excluding charges of violence–harm). Municipal judges would have to release a defendant on an unsecured appearance bond of no more than $1,000 or on their own recognizance. Municipal courts handle only misdemeanors (minor charges).
In November, a federal court decided that New Orleans judges, faced a conflict of interest, because the judges were jailing poor people for unpaid fines. The judges controlled the money collected and relied on it for court funding. The Mississippi Department of Public Safety has also agreed to reinstate licenses of all drivers whose licenses were suspended for non-payment of court fines and fees.
The 2016 Obama Justice Department letter had cited past cases and seven constitutional principles in support of the prohibition against debtor’s prisons. Foremost, “the 14th Amendment prohibits jailing people for non-payment of court fines and fees without safeguards, including a hearing before a neutral judge to determine one’s ability to pay, and meaningful alternatives to jail for people who cannot pay.”