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ACLU appeals jailing of Escanaba woman

March 31, 2009
By Dionna Harris -

ESCANABA - The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan has stepped in to represent an Escanaba woman charged with contempt of court for refusing to pay detention fees to Bay Pines Juvenile Detention facility.

Edwina Jean Nowlin, 44, Escanaba, appeared earlier this month before Delta County Probate Court Judge Robert Goebel for a show cause hearing concerning why the monthly fee wasn't being paid as ordered by the court for her son's detention at the facility.

During the March 3 hearing, Goebel ordered the fees to be paid by 4 p.m. the following day or Edwina Nowlin would face 30 days in jail for contempt of court.

Article Photos

Edwina Nowlin

According to court records, Nowlin owes three months back fee's to the Bay Pines Juvenile Detention Facility.

When Nowlin appeared before Goebel March 4, court records indicate she refused to pay the fees as ordered by the court, leading to her arrest and detention at the Delta County Jail.

According to Delta County Sheriff Gary Ballweg, Nowlin is allowed work release privileges.

Michael Steinberg, legal director of the ACLU office in Detroit, is representing Nowlin along with ACLU cooperating attorney Carl Numinnen of Marquette.

In a telephone interview this morning with Steinberg, he indicated the ACLU has been contacted by Nowlin who was concerned about being sentenced to jail for nonpayment of room and boarding costs incurred by her son being housed at Bay Pines.

"We are concerned about a rising trend in Michigan of poor people being punished and sent to jail because of an inability to pay because they are poor," said Steinberg.

Steinberg also said the ACLU felt debtor's prison or jail was antithetical to a free society.

Nowlin had been ordered to pay $104 per month by Goebel as the cost for her son's detention and was found in contempt when she was unable to pay the arrears, said Steinberg.

"This is a woman who has lost her job, she is homeless, in addition to having another son to care for, leaving her unable to pay the fees" said Steinberg.

Nowlin is scheduled to appear in Delta County Probate Court today at 2:30 p.m. concerning a motion filed on her behalf to set aside the supplemental order to pay the fees as ordered on March 3.

During today's hearing the ACLU and Numinnen are expected to request Goebel reconsider his ruling in light of the requirements under the reimbursement statute.

"We cannot jail somebody for failing to pay fees and costs they can't afford - it's unconstitutional," said Steinberg.

Calls to the local court were not returned in time for today's presstime. Check our Web site today ( for continuing updates.



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