Federal lawsuits allege that jails in the St. Louis County towns of Ferguson and Jennings operate essentially as modern-day debtors' prisons, where minor traffic offenses can lead to extended periods behind bars.

Two lawsuits were filed Sunday on behalf of people who have spent time in jail in such cases — 11 people sued Ferguson, and nine sued Jennings. They seek unspecified damages.

The shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer in August raised new concerns about the treatment of poor people in the region. Part of that resentment was aimed at traffic court.

Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that profit "was not a motive" for Ferguson courts. Ferguson and Jennings officials didn't respond to messages Monday from The Associated Press.