Resource: Thomas v. City of Gulfport

By: Fines & Fees Justice Center

August 1, 2005

Fines & Fees Justice Center

The Harrison County Jail was a modern day debtors’ prison. Officers went to predominantly African American neighborhoods arbitrarily checking people to see if they had paid their court fines and fees. People who owed fines were taken to jail where they were charged an additional fee of $25 per day. To view their public records to determine what they actually owed, plaintiffs were forced to pay a $4.75 retrieval fee. Individuals spent up to five days in jails before appearing in court. The judge never asked about their ability to pay. The judge frequently informed defendants that payment plans were unavailable and even encouraged them to open credit cards in order to pay their court debt. Hearings were held twice per week, lasting less than one minute. The judge sometimes allowed defendants to call relatives or friends from a telephone at the judge’s bench, pleading with them to bring money to the court so they could be released.