Debtors’ prison 2.0: More people getting thrown in jail for being too poor to pay fines | MSNBC

It used to be that debts were enforced with the threat of imprisonment. If you took out a loan and you couldn’t afford to pay it back, then you would be arrested and thrown in jail. But now—in the United States, at least—debtors’ prisons are supposed to be a thing of the past, a relic from a more barbaric era.

“For the most part, the US outlawed debtors’ prisons before the Civil War,” said guest host Ezra Klein on Tuesday’s episode of The Rachel Maddow Show.

And yet. “In this country, we are still throwing people into prison for owing money and not paying it back. And here’s the really perverse part: they owe the money to us.”

According to a Tuesday New York Times article, an increasing number of cash-strapped American cities are punishing minor legal infractions with fees as a way of adding a little extra money to their coffers. And because they don’t have the resources to adequately fund their courts and prisons, these same cities wind up recruiting for-profit corporations to mete out punishment. Times reporter Ethan Bronner writes that some of those companies, notably one called Judicial Corrections Services, “charge public authorities nothing and make their money by adding fees onto the bills of the defendants.”

The results are staggering: one man mentioned in the article, 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…”

2 thoughts on “Debtors’ prison 2.0: More people getting thrown in jail for being too poor to pay fines | MSNBC

  1. No Kool-Aid Zone 07/08/2012 / 5:47 PM

    It may be a cross between the civil and criminal domain, but just having judgements against you does not preclude an individual from gaining more debt. It also does not actually mean that they will pay the judgement. Since a good portion of crime is non-violent, maybe debtors prison can be combined with a white collar type of prison where the amount of time is proportional to the debt that is owed. Why put otherwise non-violet offenders at the mercy of a screwed up prison system, let them work it off in an environment in which they do not have to wear their soap around their necks.

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  2. Webeers 07/10/2012 / 1:43 PM

    “an increasing number of cash-strapped American cities” are doing this. Yet no one asks why they are so cash strapped. They spend more then they have. They buy votes with handouts. They make promises they cannot keep. They grow and never cut back. Same thing happened in the great depression. Cities and Municiple governments did not cut back but continuely tried to strangle their “subjects” for money. Government is cancer.

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