Benton County Takes a Positive Step Toward Ending Its Debtors’ Prison
On Wednesday, December 2, 2015, the commissioners of Benton County unanimously voted to rescind a resolution that set the rates credited to people who are incarcerated in jail or on work crew because they cannot afford the legal financial obligations (LFOs) imposed on them. Immediately after the vote, Benton County’s district court judges said they will no longer send people to jail or work crew for the purpose of collecting LFO debts.
LFOs are made up of the fines, fees, costs, and restitution payments imposed as part of a criminal sentence. For decades, poor people in Benton County have been routinely ordered to sit in jail or toil on a work crew simply because they are too poor to pay the LFOs.
ACLU spokesperson Doug Honig called the commissioners’ vote “a very positive step forward toward fixing what has been a broken system” but added there is still more work to do.
The lawsuit against Benton County, which was filed in Yakima County Superior Court by Terrell Marshall Law Group and the ACLU, remains in place. The plaintiffs seek to have the court declare Benton County’s LFO enforcement system unconstitutional. The plaintiffs also seek an order requiring Benton County to make significant changes to its system.