Qumotria Kennedy, 36, stands at the baseball field in downtown Biloxi where she worked as a contract maintenance employee. She's a plaintiff in an ACLU lawsuit accusing the city of operating an illegal "debtors' prison." William Widmer/Courtesy of ACLU hide caption

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Jayne Fuentes is one of three plaintiffs in a lawsuit accusing Benton County of having "modern-day debtors' prisons." Courtesy of the ACLU of Washington hide caption

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Edward Brown, who was jailed for not paying fines he couldn't afford, is among 16 plaintiffs in two lawsuits filed against the cities of Ferguson and Jennings, Mo. Joseph Shapiro/NPR hide caption

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Tonya DeBerry (center) and her children, Herbert Nelson and Allison Nelson, have all been held in Ferguson and Jennings jails for unpaid traffic tickets. Joseph Shapiro/NPR hide caption

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McArthur Edwards' driver's license was suspended for two years because he was unable to pay a $64 fine. He's using this bus stop to commute. Joseph Shapiro/NPR hide caption

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Desiree Seats, 23, lost her license for two years before she even got it because of an unpaid fine. Without a license, she couldn't find the jobs she needed to start earning money. Joseph Shapiro/NPR hide caption

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People line up to take part in an amnesty program to clear up outstanding misdemeanor arrest warrants in August 2013, in Ferguson, Mo. For those living on the economic margins, the consequences of even a minor criminal violation can lead to a spiral of debt, unpaid obligations, unemployment and even arrest. Jeff Roberson/AP hide caption

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Tom Barrett returned to the convenience store where he stole a can of beer. He spent time in jail, not for the crime, but because he couldn't afford the fines and fees that went along with wearing an electronic monitoring device. Joseph Shapiro/NPR hide caption

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In this photo from the mid-1960s, Kirk Gable, a co-founder of the electronic monitoring belt, uses war surplus missile-tracking equipment to track young adult offenders who are wearing the first electronic monitoring devices. Courtesy of Robert Gable hide caption

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Kyle Dewitt was sentenced to three days in jail after he was unable to pay fees associated with catching a fish out of season. Joseph Shapiro/NPR hide caption

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