Actus Reus

ac·tus re·us \ˈak-təs-ˈrē-əs, ˈäk-tu̇s-ˈrā-u̇s\

noun : the wrongful act that makes up the physical action of a crime

Latin: guilty act

Dismantling the debtors’ prison, clinical style

The latest good work from St. Louis University School of Law clinical professor Brendan Roediger, whose Civil Litigation Clinic has jumped in with both feet to challenge racial disparities in the criminal justice system in Missouri, particularly in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson.  This NY Times article details one brilliant result of that work—a $4.7 million settlement reached with the city of Jennings, Missouri to compensate poor people jailed for unpaid fines.

The use of debtors’ prisons is an integral component of the war on the poor and on people of color.  Justice Sotamayor, citing the DOJ’s Ferguson Report in her dissent in Utah v. Strieff, noted that 16,000 warrants were outstanding in Ferguson, a town of only 21,000 people.  Similarly, in Jennings, the target of Professor Roediger’s clinic’s lawsuit, there were twice as many warrants outstanding as there were households.


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