A federal class action lawsuit filed in Missoula District Court is accusing Ravalli County of running a “wealth-based discrimination scheme” by requiring pretrial arrestees to pay exorbitant fees to get out or stay out of jail without considering their ability to pay.
The suit, led by Teri Lea Evenson-Childs and on behalf of others, claims the fees stem from pretrial supervision and are levied before an arrestee is released from jail. The suit names the Ravalli County Sheriff’s Office as the defendant and was filed by Equal Justice Under Law based in Washington, D.C.
“The (county) refuses to release pretrial arrestees from jail until pretrial arrestees pay these fees, even after pretrial arrestees have paid their bail amount or have been ordered by the court to be released,” the suit claims. “If pretrial arrestees are released from jail, the (county) threatens to send them back to jail if they fall behind on their fee payments.”
According to the plaintiffs, the county’s approach to pretrial supervision essentially pushes arrestees further into the criminal legal system and entraps them in a cycle of debt-induced poverty. By having to pay the fees, pretrial arrestees are deprived of their property without due process.