Criminalizing Poverty Blog


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Georgia City Threatens Utility Shut-Off for Failure to Pay Court Debt

Civil rights attorneys are challenging the city of LaGrange’s “court debt policy,” which “requires any applicant for utility service to first pay any debt owed to the city—including court judgments and fines.”

The lawsuit alleges this practice is racially discriminatory and a violation of the Fair Housing Act because “black people make up 49 percent of the city's residents but represented about 90 percent of utility customers threatened with disconnection from January 2015 through September 2016 because of court debt added to their utility accounts.”

 “The city doesn't collect property tax and, therefore, uses other streams of income, including court fees and utility payments, to beef up its revenue, said Justin Cox, an attorney with the National Immigration Law Center who filed the complaint. ‘It's extremely regressive. The city balances its budget on the backs of poor people who are overwhelmingly racial minorities.’”

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