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Anna Núñez, ACLU of Texas, (713) 325-7010, [email protected]

November 3, 2016

Further Investigation Reveals Statewide System that Treats Poor People More Harshly

HOUSTON – The City of Santa Fe unconstitutionally jails people for low-level offenses simply because they are poor, charges the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas in a lawsuit filed today.

“This city runs an appalling, modern-day debtor's prison that is both unconstitutional and devastating to low-income members of its community,” said Trisha Trigilio, staff attorney with the ACLU of Texas. “The municipality uses its law enforcement power to extort payments from its own residents and punish them for their poverty. We are confident that our efforts in this litigation will put an end to Santa Fe's unconstitutional practices and foster some common-sense solutions."

The ACLU of Texas’ lawsuit asks the court to protect individuals from being jailed for non-jailable offenses solely because they could not afford a payment. The lawsuit seeks to prohibit the police from jailing people who haven’t received a hearing or access to a lawyer. The lawsuit also highlights the starvation diet that Santa Fe feeds its prisoners and seeks a court order requiring the city to give its prisoners food meeting minimal nutritional requirements.

“Throwing people in jail for not having as much money in their piggy bank as the next person is unconscionable and un-American,” said Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas. “But the fact is, the practice of locking up the the poor is commonplace across the state. Aren’t we Texans better than this? We call on Texas lawmakers to enact common-sense measures that put an end to these unconstitutional debtors’ prisons that devastate families and communities.”

Texas municipalities have a two-tiered criminal justice system for petty crimes that treats poor people more harshly than everyone else, according to an analysis by the ACLU of Texas also released today. “No Exit, Texas: Modern-Day Debtors’ Prisons and the Poverty Trap” is the result of a six-month investigation relying on records from local courts and jails, first-hand accounts from people adversely impacted by traffic tickets, and interviews with municipal court officials.

View the lawsuit here.

View ACLU of Texas analysis - "No Exit, Texas" Modern-Day Debtors' Prisons and the Poverty Trap.

Download the municipal court data set.