The Rise of “Debtors’ Prisons” in the US

PrisonCellSubmitted by Elaine Magliaro, Guest Blogger

In October of 2010, the American Civil Liberties Union published a report titled In for a Penny: The Rise of America’s New Debtors’ Prisons. The ACLU had found that debtors’ prisons were “flourishing” in this country, “more than two decades after the Supreme Court prohibited imprisoning those who are too poor to pay their legal debts.” In 2011, Huffington Post reported that debtors’ prisons were legal in more than one-third of the states in this country.

According to the ACLU report, some state and local governments “have turned aggressively to using the threat and reality of imprisonment to squeeze revenue out of the poorest defendants who appear in their courts. These modern-day debtors’ prisons impose devastating human costs, waste taxpayer money and resources, undermine our criminal justice system, are racially skewed, and create a two-tiered system of justice.”

Marie Diamond—writing for ThinkProgress in December 2011:

Federal imprisonment for unpaid debt has been illegal in the U.S. since 1833. It’s a practice people associate more with the age of Dickens than modern-day America. But as more Americans struggle to pay their bills in the wake of the recession, collection agencies are using harsher methods to get their money, ushering in the return of debtor’s prisons.

Two years ago, the Wall Street Journal reported—after interviewing twenty judges across the country—that the number of borrowers who were threatened with arrest in their courtrooms had “surged since the financial crisis began.” The Wall Street Journal added that some borrowers who were jailed had “no idea before being locked up that they were sued to collect an outstanding debt” because of sloppy, incomplete or even false documentation.” Diamond said it was becoming more and more common for debtors to serve time in jail. She added that some debtors are even required to pay for their time spent in jail—which, she said, exacerbates their dire financial situations.

Back in 2011, NPR told the story of what happened to an Illinois woman named Robin Sanders:

She [Robin Sanders] was driving home when an officer pulled her over for having a loud muffler. But instead of sending her off with a warning, the officer arrested Sanders, and she was taken right to jail.

“That’s when I found out [that] I had a warrant for failure to appear in Macoupin County. And I didn’t know what it was about.”

Sanders owed $730 on a medical bill. She says she didn’t even know a collection agency had filed a lawsuit against her.

“They say they send out these court notices, and nobody gets them,” Sanders says.

She spent four days in jail waiting for her father to raise $500 for her bail. That money was then turned over to the collection agency.

Just this month, the ACLU of Ohio published a report titled The Outskirts of Hope: How Ohio’s Debtors’ Prisons Are Ruining Lives and Costing Communities. The ACLU found that many municipalities in Ohio “routinely imprison those who are unable to pay fines and court costs despite a 1983 United States Supreme Court decision declaring this practice to be a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution.” The ACLU said that affluent residents of Ohio who are sentenced to pay fines after being convicted of a criminal or traffic offense can simply pay the fines and go on with their lives. The same does not hold true for “Ohio’s poor and working poor” who may not have the monetary resources to pay their fines. Such people may find themselves at the “beginning of a protracted process that may involve contempt charges, mounting fees, arrest warrants, and even jail time. The stark reality is that, in 2013, Ohioans are being repeatedly jailed simply for being too poor to pay fines.”

Some Findings from The Outskirts of Hope:

Debtors’ Prisons In Ohio

• Despite clear constitutional and legislative prohibitions, debtors’ prison practices are alive and well throughout Ohio. An investigation by the ACLU of Ohio uncovered conclusive evidence of these practices in 7 of the 11 Ohio counties examined.

• Courts in Huron, Cuyahoga, and Erie counties are among the worst offenders. In the second half of 2012, over 20% of all bookings in the Huron County Jail were related to failure to pay fines. In Cuyahoga County, the Parma Municipal Court jailed at least 45 people for failure to pay fines and costs between July 15 and August 31, 2012. During the same period in Erie County, the Sandusky Municipal Court jailed at least 75 people for similar charges.

• Based on the ACLU of Ohio’s investigation, there is no evidence that any of these people were given hearings to determine whether or not they were financially able to pay their fines, as required by the law.

The ACLU of Ohio reported that the U.S. Constitution, the Ohio Constitution, and Ohio Revised Code all prohibit debtors’ prisons. It said that the courts are required by law to determine whether an individual is too poor to pay a fine before jailing the person. It added that “debtors’ prisons actually waste taxpayer dollars by arresting and incarcerating people who will simply never be able to pay their fines, which are in any event usually smaller than the amount it costs to arrest and jail them.”

According to CBS News, “high rates of unemployment and government fiscal shortfalls that followed the housing crash have increased the use of debtors’ prisons, as states look for ways to replenish their coffers.”  Inimai Chettiar, director of the justice program at New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice, said, “It’s like drawing blood from a stone. States are trying to increase their revenue on the backs of the poor.” He added, “It’s a growing problem nationally, particularly because of the economic crisis.”

Does it make sense to jail poor people for failure to pay their fines when jailing them only drives them deeper into debt and also “costs counties more than the actual debt because of the cost of arresting and incarcerating individuals?”


“Unfortunately, many Americans live on the outskirts of hope — some because of their poverty, and some because of their color, and all too many because of both. Our task is to help replace their despair with opportunity.”

– President Lyndon B. Johnson (State of the Union, 1964)



The Outskirts of Hope: How Ohio’s Debtors’ Prisons Are Ruining Lives and Costing Communities (ACLU)

IN FOR A PENNY: The Rise of America’s New Debtors’ Prisons (ACLU)

Report: Ohio Is Illegally Throwing Poor People In Jail For Owing Money (Think Progress)

The Return Of Debtor’s Prisons: Thousands Of Americans Jailed For Not Paying Their Bills (Think Progress)

Debtors’ Prison Legal In More Than One-Third Of U.S. States (Huffington Post)

Debtor Arrests Criticized (Wall Street Journal)

Welcome to Debtors’ Prison, 2011 Edition (Wall Street Journal)

Modern-day debtors’ prison alleged in Ohio (NBC/AP)

Unpaid Bills Land Some Debtors Behind Bars (NPR)

Modern-day debtors’ prison alleged in Ohio  (NBC News)

As economy flails, debtors’ prisons thrive (CBS)

154 thoughts on “The Rise of “Debtors’ Prisons” in the US

  1. Great story Elaine. It is maddening to imagine that a poor person can be jailed because they are unable to pay their bills. Kudos to the ACLU for shedding some much needed sunlight on this growing problem. Let’s end the war on drugs and start a new war on poverty.

  2. We are a debtor to God with a debt we cannot pay. It is the debt of death. Forgive the debt of whoever; God will forgive your debt. How can that be? I will tell you. To even be able to forgive is the king of forgivers in your soul forgiving others. The devil is the creator of jails. That is why there is the problem that we have. The devil likes to create problems when people think they are solving a problem. Jesus ministered to souls in the devils jail when he laid his life down for us. Yes folks there is an unseen jail too. That is a holding pen for lost souls untill judgment day for their final end. NDE people think it is Hell.

  3. Elaine,

    I had no idea this practice was in place. Parma is not far from where I live. Time to write some emails and get in touch with those who are working to right these wrongs.

    Thanks for the heads up.

  4. Jesus will be wroth with people that do not forgive. The people that do not forgive have Satan in them. Have Satan in you have a dead soul. Have a dead soul give nothing that is good.

  5. Why didn’t lawyers (e.g. American Bar Association) stop this from happening?

    If something is against the law and they sanction that illegal behavior, can’t the ABA or local Bar sanction those lawyers?

  6. Elaine:

    interesting story, from what I can tell the local and state governments here in Virginia are going all out to collect as much revenue as they can. Although I dont know about debtors prisons.

    It does seem rather ridiculous to imprison someone for a few thousand dollars. Make a payment arrangement with them for 25 bucks a month or even have them do some sort of community service 1 saturday a month for 3 or 4 months. The local union would probably complain about that.

  7. Elaine,

    I had no idea this existed. OMG, we have a significant percentage of our populace who would return us to the age of Victorian England. The truth actually being returning us to feudalism, of which having an institution such as a “debtors prison” would be a shining example.

  8. Elaine:

    Thank you for the article. I can vouch for this especially as it relates to these folks. It becomes a downward spiral, first they get nicked and fined, then cannot pay the fine are arrested, more fines are added and it becomes a form of debt peonage for the convicted.

    Fines are not restitutive in nature. A court can require restitution for damages a victim of a criminal has suffered but fines are an abstract construct. The state suffers no direct damages that are indemnified by fines only. Relief in the form of community service is often a good source for some but it does border on equal protection issues because the well off can simply write a check and not have to endure servitude.

    In our state, the constitution allows the state to imprison people for absconding on debts but not for the debt itself

    Article 1 Section 17

    SECTION 17 IMPRISONMENT FOR DEBT. There shall be no imprisonment for debt, except in cases of absconding debtors.

    It could be argued that failure to pay fines are absconding but when the person hasn’t fled the state, it would be more difficult to argue.

    WA also still has a Ne Exeat statute under Chapter 7.44 RCW.

  9. As our economy worsens, and the police state repression widens, are y’all finally beginning to understand why government (federal and states) fear
    the consequences of an an aroused, angry citizenry that is armed and inching ever closer towards acting on their anger.

    There is a long-term plan to confiscate all firearms – except for the police state.

  10. Soon…Soon… The Peasants will tire of this soon….. they will tire of the Bill of Rights being systematically removed, they will tire of the abuses and the corrupt…. and then, justice will come from the masses . It is coming, watch and see.

    Already the partisan divisions between the right and left are being understood by both sides for what they are…. political noise, distractions…”Hey look over there!”.. Corporate Fascism is finally being recognized for what it is by everyone, Thievery and Oppression, and it will be rooted out.

  11. The judges and the judicial system, including court staff, are an integral part of this. The debt collectors, and their scummy tactics, aren’t the only players. I’m aware of a biased court supervisor who sent a notice of hearing to the wrong address. Result? A large judgment against a defendant who didn’t know about the hearing.

    It’s time for the judiciary to review the laws regarding debtors who are unable to pay. Incarcerating debtors through tricky, unconstitutional tactics, is an abomination and a blight on this country.

  12. Dredd,

    The judge’s are right there on the front line. They are facilitating the use of the court as leverage to collect debt. A judge can always make the observation that something is illegal and remedy the situation. They many times don’t because the illegality in jailing the debtor is based upon the debtor coming forward with proof that the failure to pay was not willful. This requires proof that you are financially unable to pay and that the disability is not the result of failure to pursue employment compensated sufficiently to enable the debtor to liquidate his/her debt. Many of the poor don’t understand this and without legal representation fail to meet this burden Judges in large part have not read, Nickled and Dimed. Judges in large part have no apparent ability to understand the plight of the working poor. Judges do know well, how to serve corporate power whether it be municipal or private. They know who votes and who has access to political power and it isn’t the hopeless impoverished soul pleading poverty.

    We have come along way and declared and fought a lot of wars since LBJ declared a war on poverty.

    Elaine, thanks for remembering LBJ’s 1964 State of the Union speech. I might add that the wealth disparity in 1964 was profoundly different then it is today. A minimum wage of, say $15.00/hr would probably go along ways toward eliminating many of these coercive collection efforts that result in net loss burdens for taxpayers.

  13. Miss a traffic ticket, go to jail?
    Debtor prisons, once a relic of the 18th century, are making a frightening comeback in the U.S. justice system
    By Alex Kane
    Feb 11, 2013

    Kawana Young, a single mother of two kids, was arrested in Michigan after failing to pay money she owed as a result of minor traffic offenses. She was recently laid off from her job, and could not pay the fees she owed because she couldn’t find another source of employment. So a judge sentenced her to three days in jail. In addition, Young was charged additional fees for being booked and for room and board for a place she did not want to be. In total, she has been jailed five times for being unable to pay her debts.

    “It doesn’t make sense to jail people when they can’t pay because they definitely can’t pay while they’re in jail,” said Young.Debtor prisons seem to belong in America’s past. But if you think the existence of prisons for people who can’t afford to pay their debts in the past, think again. Young’s ordeal, profiled in an American Civil Liberties Union report, began in 2005, after she was ticketed because she was driving without her license. It all came to a head in 2010, when Young was arrested because she did not pay off all of her debts from traffic violations. That arrest led to the judge ordering Young to jail due to her inability to pay off the money.

    Prison time for poor people in debt remains something that is practiced throughout the United States, despite the fact that a 1983 Supreme Court decision ruled that a prisoner on probation who could not afford to pay his debts could not be thrown in jail for that reason. The practice of imprisoning people for debt is being fueled by the economic crash that has decimated state and city budgets. Debtor prisons are also on the rise thanks to the zeal of private companies that “file lawsuits against debtors and often fail to serve them with notice of court dates or intentionally serve them at incorrect addresses,” as the Brennan Center for Justice’s Inimai Chettiar noted. “When debtors do not show up, agencies procure arrest warrants from courts, leading to incarceration of the debtors. Bail is usually set at an amount equal to or higher than the original fees and fines they defendants couldn’t pay in the first place. All this has amounted to a return of debtors prisons.”A 2010 report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lays out the breadth of this problem. Titled “In For a Penny: The Rise of America’s New Debtor Prisons,” the report examines how “day after day, indigent defendants are imprisoned for failing to pay legal debts they can never hope to manage. In many cases, poor men and women end up jailed or threatened with jail though they have no lawyer representing them.”

  14. lexmanifesta,

    I can’t take credit for remembering Johnson’s 1964 State of the Union address. The Johnson quote was included in one of the ACLU reports.

  15. The first time I heard of this practice was several months ago, then read an article about it last night. This does not even come close to passing the smell test when local law enforcement picks up people and then sets bail just high enough to cover the debt plus court and incarceration fees.

    I think they feel safe in picking on people like this because collection agencies know such debtors have no resources to sue them. All one can hope for is one of these days they will arrest the wrong person and all the parties involved find themselves on the wrong end of a major lawsuit.

    Glad to see this reported, because there is no disinfectant as effective as the “Tincture of Sunshine.”

  16. This is what we have turned out Police Officers into. Revenue collectors and oppressors. I understand for some basic traffic laws but we have gone too far under the guise of safety when in reality it is all about Revenue Collecting through dirty tactics like artificially low speed limits or outright lying based on presumed guilt without evidence.

    Love how the officers are creating MUCH more of a safety hazard here than any speeder would. I mean this is all supposedly about safety correct? The officers are creating a dangerous traffic situation here….to collect money for the state.

    and when they are not running radar?

  17. Good article and analysis of the debt problem in the U.S. Not to sound redundant but when Wall Street investment bankers can walk away with billions of taxpayer dollars after crashing and burning, you would think they might be a little compassionate when it comes to debt relief. Apparently, that is not the case.

  18. Jeff because they have nothing to fear from the government.
    That will also not change with Hillary or most GOP contenders either.
    They are in bed with Wall Street.

    People who think Hillary would be a hero for the people are delusional. She is deep into corruption with Wall St and the insurance industry up to her neck. Voting for Hillary would be like voting for yet another 4 more years of Bush.

    The real question is, what effect will the Revolution in the US have upon the rest of the planet?
    I get the sense an Arab Spring effect would occur across much of the ‘Western Govts’

  19. Debtors’ Prison Is Back — and Just as Cruel as Ever
    by Ross Kenneth Urken
    Aug 30th 2012

    To most of us, “debtors’ prison” sounds like an archaic institution, something straight out of a Dickens novel. But the idea of jailing people who can’t pay what they owe is alive and well in 21st-century America.

    According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, debt collectors in Missouri, Illinois, Alabama and other states are using a legal loophole to justify jailing poor citizens who legitimately cannot pay their debts.

    Here’s how clever payday lenders work the system in Missouri — where, it should be noted, jailing someone for unpaid debts is illegal under the state constitution.

    First, explains St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the creditor gets a judgment in civil court that a debtor hasn’t paid a sum that he owes. Then, the debtor is summoned to court for an “examination”: a review of their financial assets.

    If the debtor fails to show up for the examination — as often happens in such cases — the creditor can ask for a “body attachment” — essentially, a warrant for the debtor’s arrest. At that point, the police can haul the debtor in and jail them until there’s a court hearing, or until they pay the bond. No coincidence, the bond is usually set at the amount of the original debt. As the Dispatch notes:

    “Debtors are sometimes summoned to court repeatedly, increasing chances that they’ll miss a date and be arrested. Critics note that judges often set the debtor’s release bond at the amount of the debt and turn the bond money over to the creditor — essentially turning publicly financed police and court employees into private debt collectors for predatory lenders.”

    Standing Up for Those Who Can’t Pay

    The practice — in addition to putting an additional squeeze on poor people — turns courts and police into enforcers for private creditors, from payday lenders to health care providers. The situation prompted Illinois legislators in July to pass a bill “to protect vulnerable consumers from being hauled to jail over unpaid debts,” in the words of state Attorney General Lisa Madigan. The Debtors’ Rights Act of 2012 requires two “pay or appear” court notices to be sent to debtors before an arrest can be made, and also prevents creditors from calling for multiple examinations unless the debtor’s financial state has significantly changed.

    Many of the victims, Madigan noted at the time, were living on funds that are legally protected from being used for outstanding debt judgments, such as Social Security, unemployment insurance or veterans’ benefits. In one case she cited, an Illinois court brought a “pay or appear” order against a mentally disabled man living on legally protected disability benefits of $690 a month. The man told the court of his circumstances but was still ordered to pay $100 a month or appear in court once a month for a three-year period.

  20. Jailed for $280: The Return of Debtors’ Prisons
    By Alain Sherter
    CBS MoneyWatch – Mon, Apr 23, 2012–280–the-return-of-debtors–prisons.html

    How did breast cancer survivor Lisa Lindsay end up behind bars? She didn’t pay a medical bill — one the Herrin, Ill., teaching assistant was told she didn’t owe. “She got a $280 medical bill in error and was told she didn’t have to pay it,” The Associated Press reports. “But the bill was turned over to a collection agency, and eventually state troopers showed up at her home and took her to jail in handcuffs.”

    Although the U.S. abolished debtors’ prisons in the 1830s, more than a third of U.S. states allow the police to haul people in who don’t pay all manner of debts, from bills for health care services to credit card and auto loans. In parts of Illinois, debt collectors commonly use publicly funded courts, sheriff’s deputies, and country jails to pressure people who owe even small amounts to pay up, according to the AP.

    Under the law, debtors aren’t arrested for nonpayment, but rather for failing to respond to court hearings, pay legal fines, or otherwise showing “contempt of court” in connection with a creditor lawsuit. That loophole has lawmakers in the Illinois House of Representatives concerned enough to pass a bill in March that would make it illegal to send residents of the state to jail if they can’t pay a debt. The measure awaits action in the senate.

    “Creditors have been manipulating the court system to extract money from the unemployed, veterans, even seniors who rely solely on their benefits to get by each month,” Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said last month in a statement voicing support for the legislation. “Too many people have been thrown in jail simply because they’re too poor to pay their debts. We cannot allow these illegal abuses to continue.”

  21. Across America, the Return of Debtor Prison
    by Alex Kane

    Kawana Young, a single mother of two kids, was arrested in Michigan after failing to pay money she owed as a result of minor traffic offenses. She was recently laid off from her job, and could not pay the fees she owed because she couldn’t find another source of employment.

    So a judge sentenced her to three days in jail. In addition, Young was charged additional fees for being booked and for room and board for a place she did not want to be. In total, she has been jailed five times for being unable to pay her debts.

    “It doesn’t make sense to jail people when they can’t pay because they definitely can’t pay while they’re in jail,” said Young.

    Debtor prisons seem to belong in America’s past. But if you think the existence of prisons for people who can’t afford to pay their debts in the past, think again. Young’s ordeal, profiled in an American Civil Liberties Union report, began in 2005, after she was ticketed because she was driving without her license.

    It all came to a head in 2010, when Young was arrested because she did not pay off all of her debts from traffic violations. That arrest led to the judge ordering Young to jail due to her inability to pay off the money.

  22. lexmanifesta 1, April 7, 2013 at 1:43 pm


    The judge’s are right there on the front line. They are facilitating the use of the court as leverage to collect debt. A judge can always make the observation that something is illegal and remedy the situation. They many times don’t because the illegality in jailing the debtor is based upon the debtor coming forward with proof that the failure to pay was not willful. This requires proof that you are financially unable to pay and that the disability is not the result of failure to pursue employment compensated sufficiently to enable the debtor to liquidate his/her debt. Many of the poor don’t understand this and without legal representation fail to meet this burden …
    More and more the world around us in the is looking like the world George Orwell observed when he coined the phrase “bully worship.”

    Elaine M has hit an important layer of our failing understanding of the once supreme idea “the common good.”

  23. “Dredd-Why didn’t lawyers (e.g. American Bar Association) stop this from happening?”

    Probably because their fees were part of the debt owed.

  24. Actually, we have apparently been doing this for some time. That is exactly what the ‘fifty dollars or ten days’ system of justice in traffic court is. If you don’t have the fifty bucks, you spend the ten days in jail. I don’t see much of a difference.

  25. Kraaken,
    Why do you think the ACLU is involved. They are private citizens and lawyers fighting to protect the constitution. Why didn’t the Ohio state officials call a halt to this?

  26. Elaine, at some point Occupy and the Tea Party need to sit down together and realize they are fighting the same enemy and unite, to take on the common enemy.

    The idea of Occupy, the Tea Party and Anonymous merging into one is not as crazy as it sounds. In fact, I predict it will happen.

  27. This only makes the purposes of “bankruptcy reforms” clearer. They reformed the bankruptcy law to screw the middle class further.

  28. G.Mason 1, April 7, 2013 at 3:14 pm

    Elaine, at some point Occupy and the Tea Party need to sit down together and realize they are fighting the same enemy and unite, to take on the common enemy.

    The idea of Occupy, the Tea Party and Anonymous merging into one is not as crazy as it sounds. In fact, I predict it will happen.
    It should happen.

    They have all been infiltrated with operatives to try to keep it from happening.

  29. Here in WA it is done by the contempt method for criminal fines. But WA is always sneaky about how it gets its precious money. It also allows judges to enforce contempt of civil court actions against deadbeat parents who do not perform on court orders to pay child support. I had one experience where in six months I arrested the same guy for this.

    WA also loves to require a license for everything under the sun and then revokes that license for misbehavior and then has people criminally charged for doing whatever it is with a revoked license.

    It was a frequent event where someone would get a traffic ticket (a non criminal infraction) and then not pay the fine or fail to pay on the payment plan then the court would notify the Department of Licensing who would suspend the driver license. Then the person would get pulled over for some minor violation and since their license was suspended they would get arrested for DWLS 3rd. Then the person would be fined several hundred dollars and it would add to the bill. Then they got into the dwls spiral and some of them went years like this. It is a problem here.

    But what is the state to do when people refuse to pay their fines? What options should they have?

  30. Ron Paul tried a bit to make that happen but his libertarian positions on healthcare and the safety net along with his positions on social issues caused the young, minorities ,women and gay people to run away from him and into the polls to vote for the democrats.

  31. Editorial
    Return of Debtors’ Prisons
    New York Times
    Published: July 13, 2012

    A tenet of the American legal system is that it treats the poor and rich alike. The Supreme Court made this clear in 1970, 1971 and 1983, ruling that it is fundamentally unfair and violates equal protection under the Constitution for a judge to lock up an indigent or unemployed person because he cannot afford to pay a speeding ticket or a fine for a misdemeanor.

    Yet judges routinely jail people to make them pay fines even when they have no money to pay. As Ethan Bronner reported last week in The Times, minor offenders who cannot pay a fine or fee often find themselves in jail cells.

    And felony offenders who have completed their prison sentences are often sent back to jail when they cannot pay fees and fines they owe because they could not earn money while locked up. Often, these defendants are not told that they have a right to a court-appointed lawyer to challenge their detention.

    This devastating problem has gotten far worse the past five years, the result of budget-strapped state courts looking for sources of revenue and ever more poor people becoming ensnared in the court system. For decades, state court systems have gotten short shrift in the budget process and are often starved of revenue. Since the recession began, courts have increasingly had to fend for themselves by imposing fees on criminal defendants to address budget gaps. In Cambria County, Pa., for example, the Court of Common Pleas imposed 26 fees on a woman convicted of a drug crime, including $8 each for postage and judicial computers.

    This revenue-oriented approach is made worse by the increasing use of for-profit companies to collect fees owed to the courts. They add hefty fees of their own to make their profits and have gotten judges to issue arrest warrants if someone has not paid up — with no apparent need to consider a person’s inability to pay.

    State judicial leaders need to take on these indefensible practices. They should require trial judges to assess individuals’ ability to pay and reduce fines to what an offender can afford or to impose community service time in lieu of fines. They also need to monitor and discipline judges who continue to allow the poor to be imprisoned, flouting the Constitution, Supreme Court holdings and basic fairness.

  32. When I first read this article, I immediately thought about the former US Secretary of Treasury Timothy Geithner, who owed more than $15k to the IRS. Geithner was didn’t have his paycheck garnished, he didn’t receive any threatening collection notices, or failure to appear in court notices. Instead, he was nominated (and received numerous offers to sit on the board of a few Fortune 500 companies & colleges & universities) to be incharge of the IRS.

  33. Darren,
    “But what is the state to do when people refuse to pay their fines? What options should they have?”

    Refuse? No, cannot. I spent several months, about 3 years, trying to live on $600 a month. I nearly lost my home to the county b/c I couldn’t pay the taxes. If I had been picked up and fined for anything, I might have had to spend time in jail because there wasn’t enough money for anything extra. I certainly couldn’t have afforded a lawyer to help – I’d have just been further in the hole with the lawyer taking a couple of months income.

  34. Elaine,

    NYS has a STAR program where families with up to $500,000 income get a big break on their school taxes for their primary residence. Auditors have found that there are many cheats who claim more than one residence or they claim vacation homes.

    selective excerpts:

    “You might stop and think a moment, ‘Why go after taxpayers who stole thousands of dollars when no banker went to jail for stealing millions of dollars. Let’s turn that question on its head: How can we not jail middle class people who have a home for stealing thousands of dollars by claiming a fictional multiple residences, when we jail a homeless minority woman for stealing zero dollars by claiming the last permanent residence she had?’

    “And don’t think this is a singular event. Single minotiry mother Kelley Williams-Bolar was sent to jail in Ohio for the same thing. [link in the article] The officials claim that they must jail her because she doesn’t pay taxes in that district. That is not how school taxes work. Everyone who lives in the district pays, regardless of whether they have children or not. School taxes are not tuition They are paid by the entire community. Even if you have no children, you still have to pay school taxes. You can live somewhere where you don’t pay school taxes, or even rent, and you still have the right to send your children to school.

    “Now the connection I am making between STAR tax fraud and school attendance problems is based on more than residence. Yes, the jailing of minority single mothers was for having the wrong residence in receiving a free education for their children. And individuals who can afford two homes are going scot-free for fraudulently claiming both as their residence to reduce their real estate taxes.

    “Both circumstances also involve school funding issues. The portion of the real estate taxes reduced by the STAR exemption is actually the school tax. I wonder if those homeowners wrongfully claiming a second exemption should not only be charged with falsifying the STAR tax application, but also be charged with stealing education since they are not paying their full share?

    “It seems the answer to that question is “No”. If you are well-off enough to own 2 homes you can keep your ill-gotten gains as long as you stop when you get caught.
    “It would have made more sense to apply the same logic to these 2 single-mothers. Nothing was taken. Their children were entitled to the free eduction. The only claim is that the free education was being delivered to them in the wrong building. They should have been told that, and given the opportunity to send their children to the right building.”

  35. Mrs Swathmore,
    the Tea Party is becoming more open to social positions in the interest of Bill of Rights issues. Just as the Occupy crowd is. At this stage Social Issues MUST be put on the back burner. All Americans must recognize that any social issue at this stage is something that can be dealt with later. Right now we are in a crucial stage regarding our rights and freedoms.

    The Bill of Rights must be defended at all cost at this point.

    In order for that to happen we must set aside partisan politics. Religion, gays, etc etc are issues that should be completely ignored when forming alliances. The ONLY issues that should count are Bill of Rights issues.

    Washington knows this is coming. Yes they have absolutely installed people within all political movements to track the movements themselves as well as deter Alliances. Alliances of the Tea Party and Occupy crowd are the single biggest threat to the power of the Federal Government. They know this.

    They also know that partisan issues are failing to keep the political movements divided. They are seeing that gays and Religion are being deemed not as important as protecting the 4th Amendment or standing against the Patriot Act, NDAA, the UN and DHS for example.

    That is why they are now using the 2nd Amendment as the wedge issue.

    In no way would I claim that Sandy Hook is some sort of conspiracy, Anyone who does is doing a disservice to the movement if they do so. Even if you believe it to be true, keep your mouth shut. They want to label you as crazies and use it to keep us divided.

    Instead educate the anti-gun crowd to how their 1st, 4th and 5th Amendment Bill of Rights are being removed. Once you expose how those Amendments are being destroyed it will open their eyes to the importance of the 2nd Amendment. Once that happens all bets are off the table as to what happens next.

    America is teetering on the edge of awakening. We have been lied to. We have been robbed. We have slowly had the chains of tyranny quietly slipped around our necks in the interest of ‘National Security’ and guarding against Terrorism. Next they will label people defending the Bill of Rights as terrorists, traitors and or guilty of sedition. Watch and see. They smell fear at this point…. and it is their own. The time of reckoning is coming and they know it.

    Remember they will only crack down further at this point. They will seek to install Big Brother more and more. All in the supposed interest of guarding against ‘Domestic Threats’.

    On that note I will leave you against James Madison’s dire warning on this front.

    “A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defence against foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. ” James Madison, June 29th. 1787, Debates in Federal Convention

  36. G. Mason, I don’t know any liberals, OWS or otherwise, that are willing to give up their rights and go along with Ted Cruz and his Tea Party Patriots.

  37. The law of man has no mercy. People need to give it to people for their souls sake. Jailing is the only answer for a devil in a person because the devil is the one who invented jails. He thinks they are an answer, but they don’t solve any problems at all.

  38. Well Swathmore allow me to introduce myself as the first of many, many more to come.

    Cruz at this point is a brother to this Liberal.

    I refuse to allow social issues to get in the way of 1-10. I refuse to allow my desire for single payer system to sacrifice my 4th Amendment.

    I could honestly give a ratsass about ANY social issue at this point. The only single issue of importance, as should be with any intelligent American, is the Bill of Rights. Everything else is background noise, partisan bull$ hit to keep us divided while they rape our rights further every session.

    Fascism is hijacking our government and people better wake up damn fast.

  39. Also that is why our rights are being removed. Because for the past 20-30 years we have had far too many people refuse to stand together because they would rather lose the Bill of Rights than lose a fight on silly bull$ hit (in comparison) like gay marriage. Meanwhile Congress and the Presidents have been sneaking all sorts of insanity in through the backdoor. But go ahead and stick to your guns on making sure johnny does not eat a poptart into the shape of a gun while Obama passes draconian law.

    Some Democrats are waking up though. I say Democrat because a true Liberal defends the Bill of Rights completely, even the 2nd. Because the 2nd Amendment was written to protect the other 9.

  40. Great topic, Elaine. I’d read a little about it some months ago, but it appears the trend is growing substantially since then. Most troubling.

  41. Debtors’ prisons are back: how heart-warmingly Dickensian!
    By Kathleen Geier
    April 07, 2013

    The latest creepy relic from the darkest recesses of the Dickensian past that appears to be making a comeback these days are debtors’ prisons. Debtors’ prisons show up in a number of Dickens’ novels, most notably Little Dorrit, which is one of his masterpieces. George Bernard Shaw claimed it converted him to socialism and called it “a more seditious book than Das Kapital.” Dickens surely knew from debtors’ prisons, since his chronically impecunious father had been in one. And now, as Think Progress reports, this reviled institution is being revived, and poor people in Ohio are being thrown in the clink for being unable to pay off debts — mostly legal fees and court fines…

    These people live very hard lives as it is. Jailing them for the crime of being poor is appallingly sadistic. The corpse of Charles Dickens must be spinning like a whirling dervish.

    When they start bringing back the child chimneysweeps — and wouldn’t that make just the most adorable must-have conversation piece for the plutocrat who has everything? — please kill me quickly.

  42. Poor Land in Jail as Companies Add Huge Fees for Probation
    Published: July 2, 2012

    CHILDERSBURG, Ala. — Three years ago, Gina Ray, who is now 31 and unemployed, was fined $179 for speeding. She failed to show up at court (she says the ticket bore the wrong date), so her license was revoked.

    When she was next pulled over, she was, of course, driving without a license. By then her fees added up to more than $1,500. Unable to pay, she was handed over to a private probation company and jailed — charged an additional fee for each day behind bars.

    For that driving offense, Ms. Ray has been locked up three times for a total of 40 days and owes $3,170, much of it to the probation company. Her story, in hardscrabble, rural Alabama, where Krispy Kreme promises that “two can dine for $5.99,” is not about innocence.

    It is, rather, about the mushrooming of fines and fees levied by money-starved towns across the country and the for-profit businesses that administer the system. The result is that growing numbers of poor people, like Ms. Ray, are ending up jailed and in debt for minor infractions.

    “With so many towns economically strapped, there is growing pressure on the courts to bring in money rather than mete out justice,” said Lisa W. Borden, a partner in Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, a large law firm in Birmingham, Ala., who has spent a great deal of time on the issue. “The companies they hire are aggressive. Those arrested are not told about the right to counsel or asked whether they are indigent or offered an alternative to fines and jail. There are real constitutional issues at stake.”

    Half a century ago in a landmark case, the Supreme Court ruled that those accused of crimes had to be provided a lawyer if they could not afford one. But in misdemeanors, the right to counsel is rarely brought up, even though defendants can run the risk of jail. The probation companies promise revenue to the towns, while saying they also help offenders, and the defendants often end up lost in a legal Twilight Zone.

    Here in Childersburg, where there is no public transportation, Ms. Ray has plenty of company in her plight. Richard Garrett has spent a total of 24 months in jail and owes $10,000, all for traffic and license violations that began a decade ago. A onetime employee of United States Steel, Mr. Garrett is suffering from health difficulties and is without work. William M. Dawson, a Birmingham lawyer and Democratic Party activist, has filed a lawsuit for Mr. Garrett and others against the local authorities and the probation company, Judicial Correction Services, which is based in Georgia.

    “The Supreme Court has made clear that it is unconstitutional to jail people just because they can’t pay a fine,” Mr. Dawson said in an interview.

    In Georgia, three dozen for-profit probation companies operate in hundreds of courts, and there have been similar lawsuits. In one, Randy Miller, 39, an Iraq war veteran who had lost his job, was jailed after failing to make child support payments of $860 a month. In another, Hills McGee, with a monthly income of $243 in veterans benefits, was charged with public drunkenness, assessed $270 by a court and put on probation through a private company. The company added a $15 enrollment fee and $39 in monthly fees. That put his total for a year above $700, which Mr. McGee, 53, struggled to meet before being jailed for failing to pay it all.

    “These companies are bill collectors, but they are given the authority to say to someone that if he doesn’t pay, he is going to jail,” said John B. Long, a lawyer in Augusta, Ga., who is taking the issue to a federal appeals court this fall. “There are things like garbage collection where private companies are O.K. No one’s liberty is affected. The closer you get to locking someone up, the closer you get to a constitutional issue.”

    The issue of using the courts to produce income has caught the attention of the country’s legal establishment. A recent study by the nonpartisan Conference of State Court Administrators, “Courts Are Not Revenue Centers,” said that in traffic violations, “court leaders face the greatest challenge in ensuring that fines, fees and surcharges are not simply an alternate form of taxation.”

  43. Amazing story in Georgia Elaine. How in the heck can a private corporation have the authority to jail someone???

  44. rafflaw,

    Good question! Here’s a Mother Jones article from 2008 that you might find interesting:

    Probation Profiteers
    In Georgia’s outsourced justice system, a traffic ticket can land you deep in the hole.
    —By Celia Perry | July/August 2008 Issue

    Welcome to Americus, Georgia. Located 10 miles east of the peanut farm where Jimmy Carter was raised, the town has a charming city center with broad streets, a diner that still sells hot dogs for 95 cents, a Confederate flag that flies conspicuously on the outskirts of town, railroad tracks that divide white and black neighborhoods, chain gangs that labor along the roadways, and, on South Lee Street, right across from the courthouse, its very own private probation office. Middle Georgia Community Probation Services is one of 37 companies to whom local governments have outsourced the supervision of misdemeanor and traffic offenders. It’s been billed as a way to save millions of dollars for Georgia and at least nine other states where private probation is used. But to its critics, the system looks more like a way to milk scarce dollars from the poorest of the poor.

    Here’s how it works: If you have enough money to pay your fine the day you go to court for, say, a speeding ticket, you can usually avoid probation. But those who can’t scrape up a few hundred dollars—and nearly 28 percent of Americus residents live below the poverty line—must pay their fine, as well as at least $35 in monthly supervision fees to a private company, in weekly or biweekly installments over a period of three months to a year. By the time their term is over, they may have paid more than twice what the judge ordered.

    In his courtroom, which doubles as the Americus City Council’s chambers, Judge J. Michael Greene issues a rehearsed warning about these additional charges, though he doesn’t point out that they go to a private company; instead, he compares them to “taxes we all pay at the grocery store.” When I was there in April, he admonished the African American defendants before him, “Don’t fuss at the court clerks. If you do, you are going to jail. They have no more power over it than the nice lady at the checkout counter.”

    Carla, a 25-year-old single mother who lives in public housing, has been on probation for more than three years. “I never see myself getting off of it,” she told me. “I could get off of it this year if they let the fines stay what they is and don’t increase them. But every week and every month, they go up.”

    Carla’s current case is a traffic violation, issued after she rolled through two stop signs. Judge Greene placed her on probation and ordered her to pay a $200 fine plus Middle Georgia’s supervision fees. In January, she prematurely gave birth to her second child. The staples from her cesarean ripped, and she was placed on bed rest. “I couldn’t even take my baby to the doctor,” she says. Carla called her probation officer every Tuesday trying to report. “After a while I received a letter saying I ain’t reporting or calling or doing nothing I was supposed to do. And she issued a warrant.” One letter she got from Middle Georgia read, “Probation is a priviledge [sic] not a right. Probation did not levy a fine—the courts did.” She was, the letter said, $245 behind. Two months later, thanks to various penalties, that amount had shot up to $525, and her total remaining balance was $690, more than three times the original fine.

  45. rafflaw,

    Here’s a story out of Alabama:

    Probation for Profit
    By Matthew Yglesias
    Posted Tuesday, July 3, 2012

    Here’s an absolutely hideous story out of Alabama about cash-strapped towns, contract probation systems, and massive abuse of power. The basic story is that you can get fined for a lot of minor violations of traffic rules and such. And you can get additional fines for not paying the fines you have on time. In a traditional conception of the purpose of this setup, the point of the fines is compliance.

    The rule that people who are caught driving without a license need to pay a fine is supposed to halt illegal driving, not be a source of revenue.

    But some towns have started to farm the fines out to private firms, who promise the usual combination of efficiency gains and campaign contributions. This totally flips the script around to a situation where suddenly noncompliance is profitable, as it leads to escalating fines and human tragedy:

    Three years ago, Gina Ray, who is now 31 and unemployed, was fined $179 for speeding. She failed to show up at court (she says the ticket bore the wrong date), so her license was revoked. When she was next pulled over, she was, of course, driving without a license. By then her fees added up to more than $1,500. Unable to pay, she was handed over to a private probation company and jailed— charged an additional fee for each day behind bars.

    As with prisons, the basic issue here is that while you can contract out your criminal justice functions to a private company, there’s just no such thing as a private criminal justice system. It’s not like an airline or a parcel delivery company that could be run by the state or could be run by private shareholders. At the end of the day, a prison or a probation system is inherently all about the private coercive authority of the state. It’s hard to make these institutions work well, but turning them into profit centers involves not even trying to accomplish the goals of a probation system.

  46. ‘Cash register justice’: Private probation services face legal counterattack
    By Hannah Rappleye and Lisa Riordan-Seville
    Special to NBC News

    AUGUSTA, Ga. — Kathleen Hucks was walking her dogs down the dirt road that leads out of Mim’s Rentals, a small trailer park in rural Augusta, Ga., when a police officer in a cruiser stopped her on Labor Day weekend.

    The officer asked the slight 57-year-old for identification and ran her name through the system. Nothing came up for Richmond County, where she lives. Then the officer ran one more search.

    “He says, ‘Ma’am I have to place you under arrest — Columbia County’s got a hold on you for violation of probation,’” Hucks remembered.

    When her husband, 64-year-old James Hucks, saw his wife getting arrested even though she was no longer on probation, he thought there had been an error. “I said, ‘Look here, don’t y’all realize this case is dead?’”

    It was no mistake. A warrant for Hucks’ arrest had been issued in 2010, long after she completed a 24-month probation term arising from a 2006 conviction for drunken driving, possession of marijuana and driving with a suspended license. The reason: She hadn’t paid all the fees she owed to the for-profit company that supervised her probation.
    Even though the company’s ability to collect the debt had expired when her probation did, she was arrested. Hucks spent 20 days in jail before a judge freed her.
    Last week, Hucks filed suit against Sentinel Offender Services alleging that the Irvine, Calif.,-based company violated her civil rights. The outcome has implications beyond the case of one woman in Augusta because it claims that the Georgia law that allows for a for-profit company to act in a judicial capacity violates the due process clause of the state Constitution.

  47. 2 Investigates: Private probation firms costing taxpayers
    By Erin Coleman
    Nov. 7, 2012

    ATLANTA — Several probation companies that operate in Georgia recently gained national attention for the mounting lawsuits against them.

    After seeing them, Channel 2 Action News launched their own investigation into the companies.

    Private probation accounts for about 40 percent of all probation in the state.

    Channel 2’s Erin Coleman looked into the problems with the system and spoke with attorneys who said taxpayers are actually the ones losing out.

    Attorneys who are now suing some of these private companies said more people are ending up in jail for minor offense like shoplifting, running a stop sign or driving on a suspended license.

    They told Coleman that taxpayers are the ones who end up paying for it.

    “I did about 13 days in there,” said Hills McGee, a disabled veteran arrested four years ago for being drunk in public and thrown in jail for 13 days after he couldn’t’ pay his probation fee of $180 to his privately owned probation company.

    McGee’s attorney, John Bell, said he is like so many others who end up in jail for minor infractions because they can’t pay a debt.

    “The only focus appears to be how can we make him pay some money, even if it means locking him up at a far greater cost than the money he owed,” Bell said.

    Bell told Coleman that taxpayers are the ones who are paying for it. Bell has taken McGee’s case all the way to Federal Court.

    “All the incentives are backwards,” Bell said.

  48. With a prison system that is becoming rapidly more privatized, you can expect to see more of this. Elected officials, relying on corporate money to fund increasingly effective advertising campaigns for their reelection, will remain unresponsive to the needs of the public in these cases.

    More sunshine (in government), less money (in politics), and fewer behavioralists; that’s what we need in order to bring about smarter voters.

  49. Lenders Use a New Dirty Trick to Jail You For Small Debts
    By Martha C. White
    Aug. 28, 2012

    Debt collectors can call you, hound you and make you feel like a lowlife, but here in America, they can’t throw you in jail over your unpaid bills. Or can they? A sneaky tactic called “body attachment” is a new twist on this ultimate form of intimidation by creditors, and people who have committed no greater offense than managing their finances poorly are finding themselves thrown in jail with hardened criminals.

    The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that debtors in St. Louis County are being preyed upon by payday lenders and the collection agencies to which they sell their debts. Those lenders and agencies are then using the taxpayer-funded court system to put the screws to people who owe money.

    Here’s how it works: The creditor goes to court and gets a judgement against the debtor. In many cases, this action is successful only because the debtor never shows up to defend him or herself, sometimes because they’ve been the victim of “sewer service” and never received the paperwork telling them when to show up to court.

    Once the creditor has obtained this judgment, they ask the judge for an “examination.” In theory, this process is intended to assess whether or not the indebted person has bank accounts or other assets that can be seized to pay their debts. The Post-Dispatch says creditors are exploiting this process, filing multiple requests for examinations that force people to return to court over and over. And if they don’t appear in court, then the creditor asks for a “body attachment,” which forces the imprisonment of the debtor until the next hearing — or until they cough up bail money that’s often the same amount as the debt, and often is turned over directly to the creditors.

    In this way, the creditor often gets payment on the original debt as well as on all sorts of add-on interest and penalties. One woman profiled in the article was squeezed for $1,250. Her original debt? A $425 payday loan. Another woman was thrown in jail over a $588 debt.

    Creditors say they need to use these methods to make sure people show up for their court dates, but not everybody buys it. ”Don’t the county police have something better to do?” asks one Legal Aid lawyer interviewed by the newspaper. In neighboring Illinois, governor Pat Quinn signed off on a law last month that prohibits the use of body attachments in debt suits.

  50. What is not mentioned is… Incarceration for child support….. Which might or might not be acceptable under the circumstances….. But, to be incarcerated for failure to pay fines and costs in criminal cases….is against established case law but…. You get hit with contempt for failure to comply with the courts order….

    Excellent Elaine…

  51. rafflaw,

    Amazing is right!


    Southern Center for Human Rights

    Making money off of prisoners and other people under the thumb of the justice system is a time-honored tradition in the South. The first iteration was the infamous convict-leasing system of the Jim Crow era, under which inmates were forced to work in deplorable conditions for the profit of private contractors. That tradition continues today with the privatization of prisons, prison healthcare, probation, and with the efforts of the state to fund the criminal justice system off the backs of poor people.

    In some cases, privatization of the criminal justice system results in a cutting of services as private businesses seek a profit margin on the government contract. In the case of the HIV unit at Limestone Correction Facility in Alabama, cutting costs meant losing lives.

    In other cases, privatization of the criminal justice system means giving private companies a license to make money off of poor people. In courts across Georgia and Alabama, people who are unable to pay traffic fines or fines for other misdemeanors are placed on probation under for-profit companies until they pay their fines off. The government saves itself some administrative cost, but poor people end up paying exorbitant fees, facing threats & intimidation when they are unable to pay, and enduring increased risk of reincarceration for their poverty. The privatization of misdemeanor probation has allowed for-profit companies to act essentially as collection agencies with law enforcement authority. These companies, focused on profit rather than public safety or rehabilitation, provide no case management and little to no supervision. Any underlying issues of poverty, unemployment, family instability, or lack of housing are likely to go unaddressed. Instead, poor people are threatened and intimidated into coming up with payment for their fine and supervision fees on a weekly or monthly basis, often for crimes that were poverty-related in the first place. Proposed criminal justice reforms in Georgia could increase the number of people on private probation in the state if some low-level felonies are reclassified as misdemeanors. Meanwhile, private probation companies continue to enjoy state-sanctioned secrecy for all of their records.

    The ideology of business is infecting even the government run-corrections system, as more and more of the burden of funding the system is placed on those incarcerated by it, along with their families. Jails frequently charge fees for medical visits and prescriptions, as in the case of Madison County Jail. People who are incarcerated must frequently buy basic necessities, like soap and boxers, from the prison store. In Georgia, when people on felony probation have difficulty paying their fines, they may be sentenced to “Diversion Centers” where they must pay the state for room and board out of slim paychecks from minimum-wage jobs. Alternative forms of “offender-funded” correctional control such as electronic monitoring are also on the rise.

    SCHR strongly opposes the privatization of the criminal justice system in all its forms. The interests of businesses do not conform to the interests of justice, and those who suffer the difference are the incarcerated, the sick, and the poor.

  52. Private Probation Company Called An Unregulated Tool for Corruption
    Thursday, January 27, 2011

    NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CN) – A class action accuses a private probation company of bilking and extorting probationers who must pay for its services. The class claims that Providence Community Corrections, which operates in 45 states, triples the probation term of its average “client” so it can milk monthly supervision fees from them, charges far more in fees than the courts or service providers do, and does it all without an agency to regulate it, or to whom probationers can complain. And the class notes that there are “obvious and inherent problems associated with judges owning an interest in private probation companies.”

    Misty Dawn Bell sued Providence in Davidson County Chancery Court, alleging violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the Consumer Protection Act. She seeks punitive damages for the class.

    Bell claims that Providence’s unjustified supervision fees and other costs have extended her probation for more than a year because she could not afford the costs. She says she is not the only probationer affected by Providence’s behavior

    Ms. Bell alleges that the probation of persons initially placed on probation for 11 months and 29 days routinely lasts in excess of three (3) years as a result of the wrongful conduct of PCC … the probation of one individual has lasted in excess of eight (8) years,” the complaint states.

    Bell claims that Providence overcharges probationers, extorts money from them, intimidates them into signing unfair contracts, adulterates urine samples to make it look like they used drugs and sexually harasses and sexually assaults them.

    Armed sheriff’s deputies act as Providence agents, adding to the intimidation and harassment, Bell says, and “PCC and judges incarcerate probationers based on their inability to pay.”

  53. Probation as a Revenue Scheme for Cash-Strapped States
    By: David Dayen
    Tuesday July 3, 2012

    It’s largely hidden from view for those who stay on the right side of the law, but the indignities placed on those unlucky enough to get caught up in the justice system include layered-on financial penalties. Over the years, states have added all kinds of fees on those least able to pay. And they outsource the collection to private companies that simply do not relent, and know exactly how to pyramid fees on top of fees. That’s how a speeding ticket becomes a debt for life.

    This basically signals the return of debtor’s prisons in the United States, and it’s actually worse, because the citizens are paying for the privilege of landing in prison. In many areas, several rights (like the right to vote) rely on paying these back fines and fees after leaving jail. When they can’t pay the fine, the ex-convicts lose even more of their rights.

  54. The greedy rich suck the life blood out of the poor, they’re parasites. The rich skew the laws to make slaves out of people so whatever they earn goes to THEM. One day they’ll stand before God and find out that God won’t forgive THEIR debts. All their cursed money won’t keep them out of a devil’s hell. Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy. but the flip side of the coin is if you aren’t merciful, God won’t show you any either.

  55. OK I guess I’m confused (again)… This article was posted as a resurrection of 19th century debtor’s prison based on poor people BREAKING THE LAW to get themselves fined and then failing to pay the fine, get a contempt citation, and must serve some time?

    OK I get the part where the scum-bag bill collectors swear out fake documentation to make it appear to the court and law enforcement officers as a governmental-sponsored-entity fraud (i.e. doctor, hospital, etc). That’s wrong. The bill collector(s) should be fined/jailed for lying to the court and LEO’s. In some states you can be arrested and fined/jailed for defrauding an inn-keeper with a deliberately bounced check (i.e. Connecticut). I guess in Illinois it applies to medical services rendered by a doctor or hospital? (In those cases Medicaid or Medicare may be involved – i.e. government).

    In some of these scenarios I do not see a problem with incarceration for deliberately defrauding a mercantile entity as you would actually be a criminal in an criminal endeavor. However, being picked up on a warrant for being in default on your mortgage or your credit card bill is just ridiculous. Is this what is happening? If so then then this is wrong too. However, Mr. Obama (etal) has many programs to help the poor with debt such as this. All things can be renegotiated or simply liquidated under USBC (which dates back to George Washington’s days).

    There’s no excuse for “debtor’s prison” and maybe even this article. I dunno’ I’m just saying…

  56. I will admit that Connecticut is one of the WORSE violators of civil rights in USA. A CT bounty hunter can kick in your door to arrest his bounty WITHOUT a warrant! Simply because the bounty is hiding in your house! He can also be heavily armed as most of them are.

    A CT Sheriff does not have to do “positive” service on issuing a subpoena, or any other kind of court summons documentation. He can simply drop it on the front porch, stick it in the door, drop it in the mailbox, etc. It’s not like on TV where they will resort to all kinds of trickery to do a positive service (i.e. put it in your hand).

    This is the reason why so many people in CT have NO IDEA they are being summoned to court as the Sheriff’s Dept is so careless in it’s service. And they are allowed to do this.

    And then our wonderful federal USPS service has a bad habit of mis-delivering mail because they are either listening to headphones, lazy, or otherwise distracted from doing their jobs well. This too causes people to miss their court dates with no resolution from the federal govt on this particular garbage.

    In CT the judicial dept says “well we have a website in where litigants can look up their pending cases…”. OMG most poor people in Hartford, New Haven, and Bridgeport have no clue what a “website” even is! And don’t get me started on the courthouse administration being arrogant on the phone or making people wait in long lines to inquire about their cases.

    Trust me the richest state in USA (with the most poorest urban population) – namely Connecticut (home of George W. Bush – New Haven) is totally broken! Been that way for a loooonnnggg time too.

    Gun violence is very bad there and they make almost 90% of the world’s guns there (or close by i.e. Massachusetts). They have a high incidence of mental illness among the poor. They now have the strictest US gun laws as of recently. The huge palatial mansions of Hartford overlook the poorest area in USA – northern Hartford. Is it a coincidence that the largest gun manufacturers, largest pharmacological manufacturers, oldest rich American families, and the oldest most dangerous most powerful secret society of all times ALL exist in Connecticut?

    They have a great governor but his hands are tied… He’s about to pass a bill that takes money away from poor people and the rich continue to be the LOWEST taxpayers in America.

    I guess the poor just can’t get a break here huh? No wonder the resort to crime to compensate for their plight in life – and the prison system in CT! Yikes…

  57. There are all forms of trickery to thwart a bill collector from hounding you. On the telephone? Get a VOIP* account under an assumed name and disconnect your old phone. Postal mail? Get a PO Box or a UPS mailbox and just remove your home mailbox. Your old mail will just build up at the local USPS post office. Knock at the door? Get a CCTV* system with intercom and a remote dog barking machine. Bill-collector guy camped out in front of your house? 911 report of possible suspicious vehicle with potential drug activity.

    If you really want to keep your old phone number just invest into PHONE TRAY* and a USB modem. This software can be tailored to keep bill collectors totally confused with bogus telephone disconnect notices. However, they are wise to this and use a cadre of different US area codes and exchanges to defeat this. However PHONE TRAY’s wild card feature defeats that pretty well. It will announce verbally when people you want to talk to call.

    *VOIP – is a Internet based home telephone service like VONAGE, NetTalk, MagicJack, Skype, etc. 911 will work with them now. But you have to give your real name and address for that to work. If you don’t need 911 then you can use a fake name to protect your identity.

    *PhoneTray – it’s free at phonetray(dot)com – change (dot) to a period to work. You can get USB modem from his website too.

    *CCTV (closed circuit television cameras) – available at your local Radio Shack store or on the Internet at x10(dot)com – least expensive supplier. They also sell ROBO-DOG. Perimeter alarms too… yes Bill Collectors are doing all kinds of illegal stuff these days!

    Just short of carrying around a ‘pro se’, pre-printed, pre-signed writ of “habeas corpus” or “great writ” I don’t know how you can stop police from arresting you on some phony warrant cooked up by an over-imaginative bill collector. At least they (or the jailer) would have to haul you in front of court IMMEDIATELY or release you on P.T.A. or O.R. See tinyurl(dot)com/cwb9lbn for help there

  58. OH I forgot… when the Bill Collector gets your cell phone number (and they will… eventually), download a ringtone called “mosquito”. Then assign the bill collector’s caller-id to that. If you are over 25 you will not be able to hear it. However, your kids will. So what? That’ll teach them to pay their bills when they get older (LOL).

    Some cell phones have caller-id blocker apps built-in but most do not. So this idea has merit. You can download mosquito here:

  59. […] increasingly ruthless.  In many areas of the country they are now routinely putting debtors into prison.  You do not want to be a slave to debt when the next wave of the economic collapse […]

  60. Ohio Judge says the use debtors’ prisons “must receive further attention.”

    Our nation outlawed the use of debtors’ prisons in 1833. However, people in Ohio are ending up in jail for their inability to pay fines. According to an investigation by the Ohio ACLU, people are being locked up for because they can’t pay court costs and fees. The report said, “The use of debtors’ prison is an outdated and destructive practice that has wreaked havoc upon the lives of those profiled.”

    However, at least one Ohio Supreme Court judge agrees with the ACLU. Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor responded to the ACLU’s request for the court to intervene, and said, “you do cite a matter that can and must receive further attention.”

    Jailing people for their inability to pay a fine is illogical and inhumane. A person can’t go out and earn the necessary funds when they’re locked up in jail, and Ohio is simply punishing someone for being poor. Thankfully the ACLU is working to stop the rebirth of debtors’ prisons.

  61. Elaine,

    Like I said yesterday…. It’s crazy… But a probation agent has to clean its case load somehow… It is crazy…. I agree with Judge O’Conner….

  62. raf,

    Received an answer to my query from Brown. It was a form letter about the deficit. Very disappointing.

  63. ok now let’s see. the corporation formerly known as the government has plenty of money to buy specialized military weapons. drones, stealth planes etc, they have money to order jacketed bullets, they have money to train youths for dhs, they have 4 billion dollars a year to send to israel without fail , they have money to bail out the big banks and swindle (wall) st , and even though the middle class and working poor are doing worse economically apparently the billionaires are continously making billions, they have money to give the mta 193 million dollars for trains and buses that werent working before the man made sandy storm, they also apparently have money to build more and more prisons, they have money to build fema trains along with the fema re-education camps, and yet the working poor and middle class are being thrown in jail because of debts caused them deliberately by the bullcrapping ultra elites? and ;let’s not leave out the fact that the prisons are now privately owned so the more people they get to fill them the more corrupt data they can give out to secure more federal funding. does that sound about right? Miss Elaine Thank You for giving me a subject to research thoroughly while trying to wake the rest of humanity up

  64. Get Out of Jail—But Not Free: Courts Scramble to Fill Their Coffers by Billing Ex-Cons
    By John Gibeaut
    ABA Journal
    Posted Jul 1, 2012

    In Monopoly, a roll of the dice can get you a chance to draw a “get out of jail free” card to keep your piece moving around the board. But in the game of life, it takes real money to get out and stay out of real jails.

    The lesson is not lost on Ameen Muqtadir. When he walked out of a Pennsylvania prison in 2002 after serving a stretch for robbery, he says, he was determined to put down the heroin and cocaine that he blames for keeping him behind bars on and off since his teens.

    “I was able to walk away from the system entirely,” recalls Muqtadir, 54. Or so he thought.

    Years after he returned to his hometown of Philadelphia, Muqtadir found the system hadn’t let him go. He learned the Philadelphia courts had him on the hook for nearly $41,000 in forfeited bail and costs for failure to appear in 1991 and again in 1997 in two earlier robbery cases.

    The problem: Muqtadir couldn’t come to court because he was locked up in prison, and the underlying charges in the other cases had been dismissed in the meantime.

    “There was never any notice,” says Muqtadir, who today works as program director for Art House, a re-entry service for ex-offenders. “No letters for money. Nothing ever happened.”

    Muqtadir learned about the forfeitures when he was caught up in a sweep launched last year to collect up to $1.5 billion in unpaid criminal fines and costs, including $1 billion in bail the courts say is forfeited. The sweep covers an estimated 320,000 people—nearly a quarter of the city’s population. Some delinquent accounts date to the 1970s.

    Since the 1990s, state and local governments across the nation increasingly have turned to fees imposed on criminal defendants to keep their justice systems afloat in economically tough times. Besides fines, deemed punishment, and restitution, which repays victims, states have imposed thousands of other revenue-raising schemes on offenders. Many have faint ties to crime and punishment or individual offenses, such as an attempt by a Massachusetts sheriff to increase charges for county jail inmates’ haircuts above the $1.50 limit set by state prisons.

    Usually, though, much of the money is uncollectible. Ex-offenders typically move often, making it difficult if not impossible to serve them with delinquency notices or arrest warrants. Others, such as Muqtadir, hide in plain sight: in prison. But advocates say most are just too poor to pay.

    Threats of more jail time for nonpayment also constantly loom. Some critics worry heavy-handed tactics used to collect from ex-offenders signal a return, in effect, to debtors’ prisons, which were abolished in the United States in the 1830s.

  65. I guess I am on my way there.

    I received a letter from the collections saying that I owe some court costs from back in 2002. That’s nearly 10 years ago! I can’t remember much what I did in courts around that time frame, but let’s say I did file something, paid the filing fee on the spot and didn’t think about any court costs, as I likely represented myself. I know to pay bills when I receive them; in this case, it was none, nada, nothing! No letters or notifications of any kind.
    Now that I have that collection letter, I checked on the court website, and lo and behold, there’s a Judgment Lien filed back in January, which I had no idea about either. From now on, I will be checking the court website every now & then, per chance there’s something else I know nothing about.

    Had I know about it back then in 2002, I would’ve had no problem paying it, as I still worked. Now that I am disabled and on a fixed income, another story. This will likely end up on my record, and I will end up where? Well you know.

  66. Just waking up to that fact? Health care in the USA without UCS care upcspine or upper cervices heath centers is death care. Jails is not an indication of freedom. The scales are coming off of your eyes.

  67. I would like to be able to recommend pages like this for educational websites for school, but when the comments are on the same page, someone invariably has to drop the f-bomb in their comment, and that automatically causes it to be rejected. If you’d put the comments on a separate page/link, we could still use the article. Just a suggestion. : )

  68. @Donna Van Cleve – No I don’t think so. Jonathan runs a JavaScript profanity filter. If you hit CTRL-F on your keyboard and type each cuss word you can think of I do not think you’ll find one here. Unless someone deliberately misspelled it horribly I don’t think it will get through.

    What you could do is open NOTEBOOK.EXE on your PC. Come here and do a CRTL-A, then CTRL-C, then go to NOTEPAD and do a CTRL-V. Then using the REPLACE command in Notepad you can type in a cuss word and give it another kinder less rude word or just a bunch of random characters. It will globally replace every target word in the article that you typed in. Then you could just present that to the class. However, I don’t think there are any in this article as I did look. Could be wrong…

Comments are closed.