Federal Lawsuit Claims Fines From Hot Checks Create 'Debtors Prison' in Sherwood

Aug 23, 2016

ACLU's Rita Sklar with attorney Bettina Brownstein at a press conference in Little Rock Tuesday.
Credit Sarah Whites-Koditschek / KUAR

A federal lawsuit alleges twelve percent of the city of Sherwood is being funded through predatory practices of a bad checks court system.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas partnered with the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law to file the case against the city and Pulaski County.  

Attorney Bettina Brownstein says the city imposes a ceaseless punishment of jail time and escalating fines for those who write bad checks and can’t cover the cost of an initial court fine.

“It’s the inability of the person to ever have a finite punishment. There’s no way to stop being punished for this,” said Brownstein.

ACLU Arkansas Director Rita Sklar says court procedures are not recorded and defendants are not given access to representation.

“They’re making money on the backs of the poor because they can,” said Sklar. “There are other ways of dealing with people who do write bad checks.”

The suit, filed on behalf of five residents, says the practice targets some of the poorest people in the community.

Sherwood’s city attorney says the municipality is not prepared to comment on the case yet.