District court judge sued by six residents he’s sent to jail on the grounds that they weren’t paying off their debts.
Six Arkansas residents have sued Judge Mark Derrick for jailing them due to inability to pay their debts. The plaintiffs claim that Judge Derrick is running a “modern-day debtors’ prison,” and has total disregard for the ability of the debtors to service their debts on their own.
The plaintiffs are accusing the district court judge of punishing people simply for being poor.
One of the plaintiffs in the class-action suit, Kimberly Snodgrass, revealed that she has been in and out of prison several times since 2014 because of Judge Derrick’s fines and rulings. A single mother of three kids, Snodgrass said that the White County Detention Center has become her home because of her inability to settle in court on 10 different occasions. Ironically, the situation has increased her debts significantly, and only raised her risks of being thrown into jail over and over again into a deafening cycle of owing and sentencing.
“Repetitive Court Proceedings, Incarceration, and Inescapable Debt”
Snodgrass says she feels insecure and helpless for being at the mercy of Judge Derrick. She laments her inability to pay her debts even though she holds a job–even with her mother’s contributions, her scenario remains unimproved. Snodgrass says she feels an overwhelming hopelessness every time she is unable to make a payment toward any of her debts, and the fear of going back to prison is a continuous reality of her everyday life.
Snodgrass is not the only person having problems with Judge Derrick. Most of the plaintiffs have similar stories that tell of “inhumane” and “unconstitutional” behavior from the judge, who sits in Pulaski County Court within Arkansas’ 23rd Judicial District.
The plaintiffs claim that the judge intentionally imposes punishments that he knows are hard to recover from or financially manage, binding the individuals to “a spiral of repetitive court proceedings, incarceration, and inescapable debt.”
According to the 50-page lawsuit, Judge Derrick deliberately ignores whether or not the debtor may ever actually be able to pay the imposed fines or standing debt, and instead casts debtors into jail until their loved ones manage to cough up enough funds for a lump settlement. Judge Derrick is also accused of suspending the drivers licenses if individuals fail to turn up in court for a hearing, and even goes as far as to sentence people without appointing attorneys to represent them, as dictated by law.
“I Don’t Want My Kids to Suffer Anymore”
Many of the defendants that end up in Judge Derrick’s court are suffering addiction problems and other untreated health conditions.
Snodgrass disclosed that she owes on bills that total over $700 per month, and she fears she might lose the income from her current employment since she lost her past two jobs because of all the legal issues she’s faced.
“I don’t want my kids to suffer anymore; they’ve been without me for so many days over the past several years just for not paying on my fines,” Snodgrass says. “It’s not fair and it’s not right.”
Legal experts say that Judge Derrick may be imposing fees on defendants in order to fund court processes and pay salaries. However, the experts also state that it is unconstitutional to levy such fees and then jail defendants who are not capable of paying the debts in the first place.
Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, says Judge Derrick’s policies are “unlawful and inhuman,” but unless any progress is made in the law suit against him, labels won’t do much to prevent him from continuing to push this negative cycle onto whoever enters his court room.