By reminding state courts Monday that it was illegal to jail people because they can't pay fines, the U.S. Department of Justice has thrown its weight behind civil rights advocates who have accused local judges of operating modern-day "debtors' prisons."
Until now, the effort has been led by organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center and Human Rights Watch, which have sued courts around the country to force reforms, NBC News reported.
But Monday's letter from the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division put chief justices and court administrators on notice that the feds are joining the fight.
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"In one stroke, the DOJ has powerfully amplified these efforts," said Nusrat Choudhury, a lawyer in the ACLU's racial justice program.