Two St. Louis suburbs are facing lawsuits in which they are accused by residents of providing “grotesque” conditions for individuals jailed for minor offenses, the Chicago Tribune reports.
According to the lawsuits against Ferguson and Jennings, Mo., jail cells are crowded and filthy, covered in mucus, blood and feces. Inmates are also allegedly deprived of basic supplies to maintain their hygiene and medical care, the Tribune notes.
Brendan Roediger from the St. Louis University School of Law told the Los Angeles Times that residents can spend up to five weeks in jail, not because of a criminal sentence but simply because they can’t pay the fines to get out.
“They’re not sitting [in jail] because they’ve been sentenced to jail for that long,” Roediger told the Times. “They’re sitting because they can’t pay to get out.”
Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III has said that the allegations were “not based on objective facts.”
“The city disputes any contention that individuals in any specific economic group were targeted for unfair treatment, that jail detainees are abused in any way, that persons are routinely confined in custody longer than three consecutive days, or that the physical conditions in the jail were unsanitary or unconstitutionally improper,” the city claimed in a press release, according to the Tribune.
Residents of St. Louis have complained about the ticketing practice for minor offenses in the northern suburbs of the county, whose municipal budgets reportedly are heavily based on fines.
They claim that the practice targets lower-income residents unable to pay the fines, causing poor citizens to become further trapped in poverty and enmeshed in the jail system.
One plaintiff, 52-year-old Tonya DeBerry, also noticed a racial disparity in those being targeted. “The jails are only full of black people. That’s what sticks out to me,” she told the Times. “They are sticking these high fines on poor black people, and they cannot pay, and jailing them like that. They are sticking people in these jails who don’t even have jobs … it’s just horrible.”