No More "Debtor's Prison" for Truants in Hidalgo County, ACLU Says

Categories: Courts, Education

debtorsprisoninamerica.jpg
It's one way to do things.
We didn't really think this happened much anymore, but apparently Hidalgo County was in the habit of jailing school truants who couldn't pay the sometimes large fines they racked up.

It sounded -- to the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Texas -- like the debtor's prisons of old, so they sued to stop the practice.

And won. This week a federal judge ruled that the county "violated the plaintiffs' due process and equal protection rights by failing to determine their ability to pay fines before jailing them," as the ACLU of Texas put it.

"We have a crystal-clear ruling that Hidalgo County's conduct was unconstitutional," said Lisa Graybill, the group's legal director. "Locking up low-income kids in what is functionally a debtor's prison compounds the very problem that truancy laws are supposed to address by pushing students who need help into the criminal justice system instead of back into school where they belong."

Hidalgo County failed to determine whether truants were indigent when they ordered them to either pay their fines or go to jail.

The results were sometimes dramatic, the group said:

Plaintiff Elizabeth Diaz was jailed for 18 days in 2010 because she and her mother could not afford to pay more than $1,600 in outstanding fines related to truancy tickets dating back to 2006. While she was in jail, Elizabeth missed taking her state assessment test, known as TAKS, and the charter school she was attending revoked her enrollment for being absent more than five days, thereby preventing her from graduating. Another plaintiff, Francisco De Luna, was sentenced to more than 100 days in jail because he could not afford to pay more than $10,000 in school fines

"With this ruling, Hidalgo County is absolutely on notice that jailing individuals for unpaid fines without first providing an indigency determination will subject the county to liability," said Mark Whitburn, staff attorney for the ACLU of Texas. "Other counties with similarly unconstitutional practices should take notice as well."


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Robin
Robin

For all the those people lost there house,jobs,retirement and savings and cannot pay anything.Then everyone one of those people should go to jail.I know 75,000 people got laid off in the silicon valley area and lost everything.What about those 75,000 should go to jail because its no fault of there own.what about the banks went under all those employees should go to jail for losing there job and have no income to pay there bills.Let the murders and rapist walk the street and the people who cannot pay there bills go to jail.Maybe rapist and murders who roam the street can make a difference in the society that america built and destoryed.I guess that is what this country is basised up.We need more criminals on the street and more people not paying there bills in jail.Hail to the new america dead beats go to jail. Criminals get a free pass at everything.....

Anse
Anse

Kids whose parents can't get them to go to school should not be forced to attend. Ask a teacher; they're usually disruptive and nearly impossible to motivate, and when a teacher's professional appraisal depends on student performance, it's better for everybody to let them drop out and take their menial minimum wage job. That's an appropriate consequence. They can go back when reality hits them and they better understand the stupidity of their decision.

H_e_x
H_e_x

Hope: This is it.

roadgeek
roadgeek

Actions have consequences, or used to, before the ACLU intervened.

H_e_x
H_e_x

Yes, let us descend into a Dickensian novel. 

Kylejack
Kylejack

 Debtor's prison is classist. If people should serve jail sentences for their children being truant, that should be defined in the statute, not back-doored with a fine.

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