Residents weigh in on Biloxi settlement reforms - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Residents weigh in on Biloxi settlement reforms

The original lawsuit claimed Biloxi was running a modern day debtor's prison. (Image Source: WLOX News) The original lawsuit claimed Biloxi was running a modern day debtor's prison. (Image Source: WLOX News)
Council members voted unanimously to accept the settlement with the ACLU. (Image Source: WLOX News) Council members voted unanimously to accept the settlement with the ACLU. (Image Source: WLOX News)
Curtis Williams, right, says he is happy about the reforms. (Image Source: WLOX News) Curtis Williams, right, says he is happy about the reforms. (Image Source: WLOX News)
BILOXI, MS (WLOX) -

The American Civil Liberties Union is applauding the city of Biloxi for the reforms they've adopted to settle a lawsuit filed by the ACLU.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of three plaintiffs who alleged the city jailed them for not paying fines even after they were deemed indigent.

Residents seem to have some strong opinions on the new reforms.

"I think the new rules that are now in place will better serve the community," said Tamatha Arnold. "Because why would you be in prison for not being able to pay a fee?"

Joseph Anderson is one of the plaintiffs involved in the lawsuit. His uncle, Curtis Williams, says he's angry over what he deems as "nonsense."

"I'm mad it took so long for the city to finally realize that, you know, it's struggling families out here, and they can't just pay all this money for nonsense," said Williams. "You know, it may be wrong at the time or a wrong incident, but it's just nonsense that they have to put themselves in further debt, you know, instead of putting it toward bills or something like that and pay the city." 

Biloxi city council members voted to accept the settlement with the ACLU and the new reforms,  some of which include hiring clerks to collect fines instead of private probation companies and hiring a full time public defender. However, the costs of these endeavors will put the city back about $350,000.

"As soon as the suit was filed, we talked on the phone and said let's take this as an opportunity to do the right thing, work together on model procedures," said city attorney Gerald Blessey. "We get this worked out and other cities can use it."

 The attorney who represents the Biloxi plaintiffs, Nusrat Choudhury, also released a statement.

 "Being poor is not a crime," emphasized Choudhury in the written statement. "And these reforms will help ensure that people's freedoms will not rest on their ability to pay court fines and fees they cannot afford."

Choudhury said the plaintiffs were not available for comment.

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