How Debtors’ Prisons are Making a Comeback in America

Apparently having 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of its prisoners simply isn’t good enough for neo-feudal America. No, we need to find more creative and archaic ways to wastefully, immorally and seemingly unconstitutionally incarcerate poor people. Welcome to the latest trend in the penal colony formerly known as America. Debtors’ prisons. A practice I thought had long since been deemed outdated (indeed it has been largely eradicated in the Western world with the exception of about 1/3 of U.S. states as well as Greece).

From Fox News:

As if out of a Charles Dickens novel, people struggling to pay overdue fines and fees associated with court costs for even the simplest traffic infractions are being thrown in jail across the United States.

Critics are calling the practice the new “debtors’ prison” — referring to the jails that flourished in the U.S. and Western Europe over 150 years ago. Before the time of bankruptcy laws and social safety nets, poor folks and ruined business owners were locked up until their debts were paid off.

Reforms eventually outlawed the practice. But groups like the Brennan Center for Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union say it’s been reborn in local courts which may not be aware it’s against the law to send indigent people to jail over unpaid fines and fees — or they just haven’t been called on it until now.

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law released a “Tool Kit for Action” in 2012 that broke down the cost to municipalities to jail debtors in comparison with the amount of old debt it was collecting. It doesn’t look like a bargain. For example, according to the report, Mecklenburg County, N.C., collected $33,476 in debts in 2009, but spent $40,000 jailing 246 debtors — a loss of $6,524.

Don’t worry, I’m sure private prisons for debtors will soon spring up to make this practice a pillar of GDP growth.

Many jurisdictions have taken to hiring private collection/probation companies to go after debtors, giving them the authority to revoke probation and incarcerate if they can’t pay. Research into the practice has found that private companies impose their own additional surcharges. Some 15 private companies have emerged to run these services in the South, including the popular Judicial Correction Services (JCS).

In 2012, Circuit Judge Hub Harrington at Harpersville Municipal Court in Alabama shut down what he called the “debtors’ prison” process there, echoing complaints that private companies are only in it for the money. He cited JCS in part for sending indigent people to jail. Calling it a “judicially sanctioned extortion racket,” Harrington said many defendants were locked up on bogus failure-to-appear warrants, and slapped with more fines and fees as a result.

Repeated calls to JCS in Alabama and Georgia were not returned.

The ACLU found that seven out of 11 counties they studied were operating de facto debtors’ prisons, despite clear “constitutional and legislative prohibitions.” Some were worse than others. In the second half of 2012 in Huron County, 20 percent of arrests were for failure to pay fines. The Sandusky Municipal Court in Erie County jailed 75 people in a little more than a month during the summer of 2012. The ACLU says it costs upwards of $400 in Ohio to execute a warrant and $65 a night to jail people.

Mark Silverstein, a staff attorney at the Colorado ACLU, claimed judges in these courts never assess the defendants’ ability to pay before sentencing them to jail, which would be unconstitutional.

Full article here.

On a related note, I strong suggest everyone read the following article from The Atlantic called: I Got Myself Arrested So I Could Look Inside the Justice System.

You’ll never see the “justice” system in the same light again.

In Liberty,
Mike

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6 Comments

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  1. It seems a major driver of healthcare reform was personal bankruptcies caused by unforeseen medical incidents coupled with lack of insurance. This was documented as the greatest cause of personal bankruptcy. Financial institutions were taking the hit. Thus, healthcare reforms can be seen as another bailout of financial institutions. Going forward, it seems unforeseen medical incidents for the uninsured will now result in possible jail terms until IRS-enforced health insurance penalties are paid. Is this correct?

  2. Every body Does 8 hrs free work. /week an takes wat he needs out of pot. ?? That’s everybody from5yr. old. To. Old age ! Don’t need leaders who can’t see ther bottom half

  3. I can hear the neo-press gangs drumming in the distance..

  4. One debtor’s prison often looked in Georgia are child support courts. Often a dad has no income or assets whatsoever and cannot pay child support. He gets thrown in jail if he cannot pay his child support unless he hires an attorney, because he does not know how to argue his case. It is not a crime to be unemployed, but if that defense isn’t raised, he’s thrown in jail anyway because the entire system is privatized. The judges (at least in Georgia) are completely paid off and don’t give two flips.

  5. “judicially sanctioned extortion racket,”

    ^^^ This sums up just about every aspect of our criminal justice system. Sure there are some legitimate crimes that deserve punishment, but by making everything in life illegal, everyone is criminally liable. When you’re recognized (caught isn’t the right word) as an “offender” of some misdemeanor, you;’re not only adjudicated guilty and sentenced to a fine without proper due process, but then you’re locked up because you don’t have the cash.

    Judges, lawyers, law enforcement, corrections, and every administrative wonk who’ can cite and fine citizens benefit from this horrible situation. Without it, the cancer that is guberment would be choked and die.

    However, history is repetitive. The new American revolution is on the way.

  6. Even though I’m a Libertarian I somewhat agree with debt prison…they could do work release to pay off debts

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