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Home » Criminal Law » Debtors’ prisons are all the rage in Sherwood, Arkansas

Debtors’ prisons are all the rage in Sherwood, Arkansas

the monopoly man invites you into a prison hallwayDebtors’ prisons shouldn’t exist. As a society, we are at a point where they should be unacceptable. This, of course, is far from the only corruption-related problem plaguing Americans — particularly poor Americans — nationwide, but in Sherwood, Arkansas, debtors’ prisons are perhaps one of the more pressing issues.

Take for example the case of 44-year-old Lee Robertson:

In 2009, Robertson began the protracted, debilitating, and expensive process of chemotherapy for his pancreatic cancer. His condition was such that working a full-time job was not an option. During this trying period, Robertson found himself having to write eleven checks at local stores over the span of two weeks. These least of these checks amount to five dollars and the greatest no more than forty-one dollars.

Such was Robertson’s situation. Physically incapable of working for a living wage, he still found himself having to pay for necessary things — food, hygiene, that sort of thing. Before too long, he owed these stores about two-hundred dollars. Then the cops started coming.

Robertson’s story does not have a happy ending. The police were at his door on a regular basis, demanding that he pay the debts he couldn’t afford or else go to jail. ProTrac, a private company that specializes in probation, was tacking on thirty-five dollars each month he failed to pay.

Last month, after being arrested seven different times for failure to pay his small debts, Judge Milas Hale of Sherwood District Court declared that Robertson must spend ninety days behind bars. Over the course of six years, the money he owed for those tiny checks had ballooned into a whopping $3,054.51.

Robertson had to spend about a month in jail, during which time he was unable to take any of his medication for high blood pressure or his thankfully in-remission pancreatic cancer. The only reason he was able to leave jail after just one month was due to his performing manual labor — he didn’t really have a choice.

Now, Robertson and others like him are plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit, filed with the help of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Arkansas Civil Liberties Union. The lawsuit targets “modern-day debtors’ prisons.”

The Hot Check Division of Sherwood

Sherwood’s municipal court has something called the Hot Check Division. Online, this is described by the city of Sherwood as a service for businesses that hands out more than 35,000 warrants each year for the crime of using bad checks. No matter how small the amount in question, any bad check has the potential to rack up $400 in fines, not including restitution. In five years, the Hot Check Division reeled in almost $12 million, mostly from people in dire straits like Robertson.

The class action lawsuit against debtors’ prisons details the nasty truth of what justice means in Sherwood. If the Hot Check Division sends you to court, you’ll be told that no loved ones may enter with you — the court is “closed.” You’ll also be required to waive your right to legal representation. Many “trials” last no more than a couple of minutes.

Also targeted is the Sherwood Police Department, for being the Hot Check Division’s muscle. According to the lawsuit, they’re simply the folks that go out to strong-arm people who haven’t paid debts or missed their court dates. Did I say strong-arm? I meant handcuff.

The Hot Check Division’s “collections scheme” is responsible for almost 12% of Sherwood’s budget.

President of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is Kristen Clarke. In an interview with the Huffington Post, she makes clear her belief that citizens of Sherwood are having their due process rights gravely violated:

“People are doomed for failure when they appear before the court, and most significantly trapped in this never-ending cycle of expanding debt. With the resurgence of debtors’ prisons, we will continue to see people cycle in and out of jails and prisons across our country merely because of their inability to pay fines and fees tied to low-level, nonviolent offenses.”

A growing problem:

Lee Robertson is just one victim of debtors’ prisons in Sherwood, Arkansas. And like Kristen Clarke said, this isn’t just a local issue — it’s a national problem. While some attention has been given to the injustice of jailing the poor for their inability to pay fines before their financial situations are even assessed, there’s no reason to assume that things are getting better. Who knows, they may even be getting worse.

At Turner Law Offices, P.C., our team of attorneys has years of experience working with clients facing charges due to their inability to pay legal fines or fees. We know your rights, and we’ll demand that they’re respected, working one-on-one to pursue a legitimate resolution to your case for a price that’s well within your means. Without legal representation, justice is nigh impossible to come by, so don’t wait! Call today, or go online to set up your free initial consultation, and meet with a skilled lawyer who’s ready and waiting to guide you toward the satisfaction you deserve.

(615) 259-2660

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