Missouri AG Schmitt files first amicus brief opposing debtors' prisons

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In one of his first actions as Missouri Attorney General, Eric Schmitt filed an amicus brief Monday with the Missouri Supreme Court in support of ending the practice of modern-day debtors’ prisons.

The brief argued against the collection of board bills — where inmates are charged for the cost of their incarceration — under the definition of “court costs,” instead suggesting collection through civil collection practices. That way, additional jail time could not be imposed as punishment for failure to pay. It was filed in the case Richey v. State of Missouri.

Previously, the Missourian reported on the situation of George Richey, a resident from Appleton City who was jailed again for failing to pay his first board bill, resulting in a second bill. Oftentimes, board bills are charged to make up for decreasing revenue from small tax bases as well as increasing jail costs.

“Courts should not be using the threat of jail time to generate funds for bloated big government budgets when other means of collection exist,” Schmitt said in a news release. “De facto debtors’ prisons have no place in Missouri, and I am proud to stand up against a system that seeks to treat its poorer citizens as ATMs.”

Richey’s case is one of multiple ongoing cases filed by Public Defender Matthew Mueller challenging the collection of board bills from those who are indigent. Most recently in December, the Court of Appeals ruled in the case State v. John B. Wright that board bills aren’t taxable under “court costs.”

Schmitt was appointed by Gov. Mike Parson after the November election of former Attorney General Josh Hawley to the U.S. Senate. Schmitt has some experience in the field of debt coercion, helping pass legislation reforming municipal collection practices after the events of Ferguson in 2014.

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