5 People Serving Time In Michigan Jails For Failing To Pay Fines

A 19-year-old Michigan man thought he’d do some unlicensed fishing but when he cast his line he ended up reeling in a jail sentence. Because he caught a fish out of season and couldn’t afford the $215 fine, he was sentenced to three days in jail. The American Civil Liberties Union is using the fisherman’s case, along with four others, to attack a state law it considers to be the modern-day equivalent of a debtors’ prison.

A Michigan ACLU honcho talks tough in a Detroit Free Press article:

“Long thought to be a relic of the 19th Century, debtors’ prisons are still alive and well in Michigan. Jailing our clients because they are poor is not only unconstitutional, it’s unconscionable and a shameful waste of resources.”

The ACLU contends judges did not set up hearings to determine whether the accused could afford the fines, or whether they should be diverted to community service. A county prosecutor involved in the fisherman’s case, who says he should have been able to pay the fine if he could afford the fishing equipment, snaps back “The general Michigan citizen is going to say, ‘Wait a minute. Is he someone who doesn’t have the means to pay, or chooses not to pay?’ “

ACLU of Michigan takes up causes of those jailed because they can’t pay fines [Detroit Free Press]