A 34-year-old single mother was arrested and held in jail for two weeks after a traffic accident that wasn't her fault; now she's suing a Missouri city and county she says punished her for being poor. The Guardian reports Nicole Bolden was arrested in front of her toddlers in 2014 when authorities discovered she had arrest warrants for unpaid traffic tickets totaling more than $1,700. Bolden's lawyer says the Constitution requires courts to work on a payment or community service plan with people who can't—rather than won't—pay their fines. Instead, Bolden was kept in jail in what she says were horrible conditions. At one point, she was housed with a heroin addict vomiting during withdrawals; she says the jail made her clean it up, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
In a civil rights lawsuit filed Monday, Bolden says she was jailed "solely because she was too poor to pay" and likens the current system in Missouri to a "debtors' prison." Foristell, the city named in Bolden's lawsuit, raises more than half its revenue from court fines—at least $2.9 million over the past five years in a city of just 500 people. The state has audited Foristell for possible municipal court abuses, and Bolden's lawsuit is part of a string of similar suits filed recently in Missouri. Earlier this year, the Justice Department warned judges across the country against jailing people just because they couldn't afford to pay fines. (New Orleans also has been accused of running a modern debtors' prison.)