YAKIMA, Wash. - The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a class-action lawsuit against Benton County alleging its system of imprisoning defendants for unpaid court fines is unconstitutional.

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in Yakima County Superior Court and seeks a court order requiring the county to come up with a new system for collecting unpaid court fines.

The county threatens to jail or forces manual labor on poor people who are unable to pay legal financial obligations in court cases, according to a news release by the ACLU.

People who are unable to pay their court fees in Benton County are routinely sentenced to jail or work crew in order to pay off their fines.

“Benton County operates a modern-day debtors’ prison,” said ACLU attorney Vanessa Hernandez. “On any given day, scores of indigent persons sit in jail or do manual labor for the county simply because they are too poor to pay the government. The county is trying to squeeze blood from a turnip.”

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of three former inmates at the jail — Jayne Fuentes, Gina Taggart and Reese Groves — who reportedly suffered hardships due to their incarceration.

The Terrell Marshall Law Group PLLCS partnered with the ALCU to file the lawsuit.

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