Debtor’s prisons in Ohio? Educating the judiciary to prevent illegal incarcerations

The Plain Dealer out of Cleveland reports that across Ohio, individuals are sometimes jailed for failure to pay court fines and costs in violation of the Ohio Constitution. This often impacts poor Ohioans who may not have the resources to pay the fines or to fight the illegal incarceration. Plaintiffs out of Northern Ohio, including Joshua Ward and Jeremiah Stover, have attempted to sue Norwalk County Municipal Court and the city of Norwalk for repeatedly jailing them for failing to pay court costs and fines. The plaintiffs have not been successful so far, as the federal court has found the defendants immune from suit, but the case is on-going.

The Supreme Court of Ohio has addressed this issue by attempting to educate the judiciary about when jail time is and isn't an appropriate remedy for failure to pay fines. To accomplish this the Court has developed a benchcard that explains the law with respect to this issue and has engaged in training for judges, probation officers and court employees.