Debtor's Prison in the USA?

Publius pro tem

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This CBS story says they are "thriving" - which is a bunch of bullsh!t.

On the other hand, people do get locked up in vast numbers for non-payment of fines.
But isn't this a punishment for non-compliance with the law?
Not the same thing as a debtor's prison in the historical context - used here for headline hype...


I have mixed feelings about this one... and for NONE of the reasons CBS cites...


As Economy Flails, Debtors' Prisons Thrive

By Alain Sherter / MoneyWatch/ April 4, 2013

(MoneyWatch) Thousands of Americans are sent to jail not for committing a
crime, but because they can't afford to pay for traffic tickets, medical bills
and court fees.

If that sounds like a debtors' prison, a legal relic which was abolished in this
country in the 1830s, that's because it is. And courts and judges in states
across the land are violating the Constitution by incarcerating people for
being unable to pay such debts.

Ask Jack Dawley, 55, an unemployed man in Ohio who between 2007 and
2012 spent a total of 16 days in jail in a Huron County lock-up for failing to
pay roughly $1,500 in legal fines he'd incurred in the 1990s. The fines stemmed
from Dawley's convictions for driving under the influence and other offenses.
After his release from a Wisconsin correctional facility, Dawley, who admits
he had struggled with drugs and alcohol, got clean. But if he put his substance
problems behind him, Dawley's couldn't outrun his debts.

Struggling to find a job and dealing with the effects of a back injury, he fell
behind on repayments to the municipal court in Norwalk, Ohio. He was arrested
six years ago and sent to jail for not paying his original court fines. Although
Dawley was put on a monthly payment plan, during his latest stint behind
bars in 2012 the court ordered him to pay off his entire remaining debt.

" I called my brother, and they told him I have to pay off the whole fine in
order for me to get out," he said. "That was $900. So I sat my whole 10 days
[in jail.]"

Such stories are by no means unusual. Rather, they reflect a justice system
that in effect criminalizes poverty. "It's a growing problem nationally,
particularly because of the economic crisis," said Inimai Chettiar, director of
the justice program at New York University School of Law's Brennan Center
for Justice.

Roughly a third of U.S. states today jail people for not paying off their debts,
from court-related fines and fees to credit card and car loans, according to
the American Civil Liberties Union. Such practices contravene a 1983 United
States Supreme Court ruling that they violate the Constitutions's Equal
Protection Clause.

Some states apply "poverty penalties," such as late fees, payment plan fees
and interest, when people are unable to pay all their debts at once. Alabama
charges a 30 percent collection fee, for instance, while Florida allows private
debt collectors to add a 40 percent surcharge on the original debt. Some
Florida counties also use so-called collection courts, where debtors can be
jailed but have no right to a public defender. In North Carolina, people are
charged for using a public defender, so poor defendants who can't afford
such costs may be forced to forgo legal counsel.

The 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. Said Chettiar, "It's like drawing blood from
a stone. States are trying to increase their revenue on the backs of the poor."

In Dawley's home state of Ohio, the local chapter of the ACLU announced
today that it had found conclusive evidence of such polices in 7 of 11
counties in the state that it examined over the course of a year-long
investigation. Although debtors' prisons are unconstitutional and prohibited by
Ohio law, poor defendants are routinely jailed for failing to pay court fines,
the group said in a report.

Municipal and so-called mayors' courts -- Ohio is one of two states in the
U.S. where mayors can administer the law, even if they aren't licensed
attorneys -- also commonly do not give defendants like Dawley a hearing or
inform them of their rights to counsel, as required by law.

"They didn't give you the opportunity to say you couldn't pay," Dawley said
of his time in court. "They just gave out 10 day sentences.... There was
nothing about your finances. Either you plead guilty, not guilty or no contest.
They give you a jail date and put you on a payment plan, and if you don't
make the payment plan you're going to jail."

In so doing, courts fail to make a crucial distinction between defendants who
have the means to pay their debts but refuse to do so, and those who are
too poor to repay. That failure derives in large part from the lack of a consistent
legal standard for determining willful nonpayment of such debts. As a result,
while a judge in one state may take into account that a person on food
stamps is financially unable to pay court costs, a judge across the state line
might sentence that same individual to 10 days in the clink.

"If you don't have resources for an attorney or can't afford other fees
associated with court, you get a different brand of justice," said Mike
Brickner, director of communications and public policy at the ACLU of Ohio,
noting that such practices are "rampant" in the state. "And with the
economic downturn over the last 10 years, we've seen an increase and
resurgence in debtors' prisons."

In another case the group uncovered in Ohio, a mother of three was imprisoned
for 10 days for failing to pay $540 in fines and costs related to a conviction
for driving with a suspended license. And as in other cases where the indigent
are jailed, taxpayers ended up footing part of the bill. The total cost of
arresting and incarcerating her amounted to nearly $1,000. (For more details
on the case, see the following interview of the woman, Megan Sharp, by the
ACLU of Ohio.)

(Video in link at bottom)

The final tab for the county? A loss of some $930, ACLU of Ohio found.
"If someone who can't pay is incarcerated, it ends up costing the state more
because it costs more to put them in prison than what they originally owed,"
Chettiar said.

Jail time can also accelerate a downward spiral for the debtor, because
additional court costs are piled on top of their previous debts. That makes
repayment even harder, and the cycle continues.

Some cities, meanwhile, have joined states in reviving the use of debtors'
prisons. Philadelphia courts in 2011 sought to collect on court-related debt
from 320,000 people, involving obligations they owed dating back to the 1970s.

Some judges have had enough. An Alabama circuit court judge last year rebuked
a municipal court and private probation company for incarcerating people
over their criminal justice debt, calling the arrangement a "judicially sanctioned
extortion racket."

Yet such critiques are insufficient to finally lock the gates on debtors' prisons,
according to experts. Perhaps most important, poor defendants should be
exempt from court fees and fines, while repayment plans should be set
according to people's ability to repay a debt, the Brennan Center said in a
recent report. States also must have clear written standards for determining
a person's ability to pay. Fees for public defenders should be eliminated.

As for Dawley, who said the local court has relented in recent months in locking
up people like him as public scrutiny of the issue has grown, he doesn't expect
to return to jail. He is now looking for a job. "I'd like to get some retail work,"
he said.


As economy flails, debtors' prisons thrive - CBS News

Our oldest boy has taken the jail option every chance he gets.
He doesn't want a job anyway; and if he did, he damned sure wouldn't spend weed money on fines.

:rolleyes: :facepalm:

One thing he encountered in Maricopa County, Arizona that has become the norm nationwide?
HUGE surcharges (like 84% - no kidding) assessed in addition to fines.
All kinds of court costs, fees, penalties - even "convenience" fees.

Any program that uses equipment like ankle bracelets or breathalyzers should be paid for by the user.
(Or just serve the time, in my opinion...)

But the courts have created a million different revenue streams on the backs of the citizenry.


Rack up a buncha credit card debt, and fraudulent sh!t like that?
The legal penalty SHOULD be easier to impose - in my opinion.

But for court fees, fines, sh!t like that?
I dunno.
The court orders it, you should fxcking PAY it.
But when the courts have gone off the deep end....

:dunno:


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Publius pro tem

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But will there be no penalty administered then?

That's the flip side of this - without jail time we have fines, penalties and fees that add up alarmingly.

Our kid cannot dig his way out of what he owes now - several thousand dollars.
I mean - I think he should, and I expect him to get a fxcking job and get with it.
But he's well into his twenties and has plenty of places to couch-surf.
The fines haven't motivated him, and the jail time hasn't hurt him one bit.
The food's decent and he has air-conditioning while he's in the joint.

Who's the smartest guy now - while the rest of us bust our asses to stay afloat? :dunno:




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Publius pro tem

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Another thing I have been conflicted about for years -
We have thousands and thousands of people locked up who have never harmed anyone.

Why do we lock people up?

Threat to society?
Predatory humans who simply cannot play well with the rest of us?
Opportunists who will fxck people up/over as soon as nobody's watching?

There are people we lock up as a safety measure for the benefit of society.
Then there are people we lock up to "punish" them for any number of reasons.

I can tell you for a fact that many inmates view jail or prison as a lifestyle change - nothing more.
Not a fxcking thing punitive about it if you look at their lives when they were free to roam our streets.
While locked up they have their own bed, climate control, plumbing, food - and zero responsibilities.
Safer too...

:hmm:


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QBob

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There's no need for debtors prison. Transunion, Experian and Equifax will give you a minimum 10 year sentence.
 

Jakeislove

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There's no need for debtors prison. Transunion, Experian and Equifax will give you a minimum 10 year sentence.

Prison is easier.

Look at it this way: You can be out on parole for manslaughter after 8 years but it takes 10 years for a bankruptcy to fall off. Seven years for a late payment to age off one's credit report. :)
 

mr_mer

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HYpotethical question: when debtor's jails are full, is indentured servitude the next step?
 

Rocco Crocco

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Neo... my life was going down a similar path to that of your son. I had a very bad drug problem which began at age 17, and didn't end until I was over 30. In those years, I was arrested close to a dozen times, put into treatment facilities and various versions of "drug court". None of this helped until I decided on my own that I didn't want to live like that any more. I found out what I needed to do to change and did the work necessary.

Trust me when I tell you... what is going on with him is not your job to clean up or gripe about. It's not helping him. I know you didn't ask for my advice, but the best thing for him AND you is to cut him off financially, and don't let him live with you. (you may have already done this). Easier said than done, but better for everyone.

Let him figure it out. There's a good chance he will when he's ready, but it won't be because of anything you say or do.

Good luck.
 

Thundergod

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I don't get it.

They say people get jailed for no crime. That their only mistake is not paying traffic tickets and court fees... :hmm:

Why were them in court? Why did thy have traffic tickets?

IMO if you get something while knowing you can't pay it then you are as much a POS as the guy who steals something. If you go to the doctor and get medicine and don't intend to pay for it then you are taking from others that need too and were probably able to pay.
 

Thundergod

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The first example they make is a really bad example that doesn't help their cause. He was jailed for DUI and other stuff. So he lost his job and couldn't pay his debt.

Is that the state or the court's fault? Should they encourage his behavior by pardoning his debt? Oh yeah, that will help. That will make him a more productive and responsible person and will help the country's economy in the long run.

Can't pay it? Don't buy it. Avoid credit cards unless you can pay what you are buying with them (if you are spending 100000 on something that is not necessary and you are using a credit card, make sure you have the 100000 in your bank acount or at home, if you dot then it's not the credit card's fault but yours).
 

mr_mer

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If you go to the doctor and get medicine and don't intend to pay for it then you are taking from others that need too and were probably able to pay.
I don't think we have enough jail space for individuals in this particular example.
 

PraXis

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We'll have much more room in jails if we stopped imprisoning non-violent drug offenders.
 

Byron999

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When they start forcing prisoners into labor, there will be many.
 

Sloppy Joe

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You are right. The courts have created a revenue stream on the backs of the citizenry - the honest citizens who sometimes gets in hot water for something like driving too fast.

But when do the career hibitual criminals ever have to pay fines, fees, and the costs of their trails(and incarceration)? I think that they should have to pay for it all. Why should honest hard working people have foot the bill for criminals and their criminal lifestyles?
 

12watt

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When prisons become businesses, there is a very great incentive to increase the population. A great deal of lobbying against reforming sentencing policies for "soft" crime is carried out. Likewise, little is done to stem recidivism, as repeat business is no bad thing for the operators.
 

Roberteaux

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I wish I could say "community service" and believe it would work, but I'm not naive enough.

Some would deem that to be slave labor. And there were cases of that being precisely the case, and some of it reached the US Supreme Court back in the 1920's and 1930's, IIRC.

So: do you let debtors skate, knowing that some humans will absolutely take advantage of that sort of thing... or do you let the poor suffer and burn along with the genuine trash?

It's a strange sort of balancing act, I'd say. Interesting, how as the fiscal picture gets to be more and more of a crunch, that the states are coming up with schemes that pretty much flopped in the past-- but only flopped well after the fact, once a true recovery was afoot. While money was still really tight, nobody said a word.

Biggest solution is this: don't go into debt. I do realize, however, that this is an awful lot to ask of anyone-- most especially in such dismal economic times as we face now.

United We Stand, Divided We Fall. I also realize that this is a bit much to ask for as well. Right now the ball is in the air and various factions are making a grab for it.

--R
 

Sloppy Joe

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When prisons become businesses, there is a very great incentive to increase the population. A great deal of lobbying against reforming sentencing policies for "soft" crime is carried out. Likewise, little is done to stem recidivism, as repeat business is no bad thing for the operators.

I don't think there would be any difficulty finding 'customers' these days.
 

MineGoesTo11

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A lot of tickets and fines are pointless as far as serving justice. They are revenue creation.

You can be driving over the speed limit and still be driving perfectly safely in many cases. Parking tickets? What a joke. I didn't create this automobile based world, but I'm forced to live in it.

Somebody is always trying to reach into your pocket.
 

Publius pro tem

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We'll have much more room in jails if we stopped imprisoning non-violent drug offenders.
But if you are looking to stop the behavior, what is the penalty?
Fines - with surcharges and fees that double the outstanding amount?


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