Debtors' Prisons Return To The U.S., ACLU Finds

Debtors' PrisonsHave you ever been stuck on the "jail" square in Monopoly, because you just couldn't pay the $50 to get out? That's not allowed in real life. Under the U.S. Constitution, you can't go to jail, or be kept in jail, just because you're unable to afford a fine.

But it still happens. The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio investigated 11 counties in the state and found debtors' prisons to be a live and well tradition in seven of them. For our Friday Lunchtime Live video series, AOL Jobs spoke with Mike Brickner, one of the lead ACLU investigators, to find out the extent of the problem, and what people can do if they find themselves under arrest for a debt they can't pay.

"Everyone had been incarcerated multiple times," Brickner says about the people who had been through this system, "and everyone in these communities knew someone who had been affected."

The ACLU estimates that possibly thousands of poor Americans in Ohio alone have been thrown into jail for not paying debts, causing them to lose their jobs and more. When money is particularly tight, John Bundren, one of the individuals interviewed by the ACLU, will pay the fine of Samantha Reed, the mother of his child, (pictured above) instead of his own, so that she can stay home with their infant.

More: Is Bad Credit Killing Your Job Chances?

What often happens, Brickner explains, is that a person can't afford car insurance, but needs to drive, so ends up getting their license suspended. They still need to drive -- to a job, for example -- so end up getting a $300 fine. Unable to pay, the person receives a bench warrant, which costs $400, then is kept in jail for 10 days, at $55 a night.

That's $950 of costs for a $300 fine. "It's not just an illegal policy; it's a stupid policy," Brickner says.

"The sad thing is that we really think these seven courts we found are just the tip of the iceberg," he adds. "That there are many, many, many courts around the state that are doing this."

Watch the highlights reel below and the full video here. And if you have had an experience with a debtors' prison, or know someone who has, the ACLU of Ohio invites you to visit its website here to tell your story.


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Jean

When Bush changed consumer laws to prevent people from filing chapter 11 to dissolve their debt, the door of abuse was opened. I think most people who file chapter 11 do so because they legitimately cannot pay their debt and it gives them an opportunity to start over. Even in biblical times people could have a clean slate after 7 years. I think that's humane. These debt collection agencies are parasites that are causing untold misery on many people who need a break. When a person has a charge off on their credit report, it stays there for 7 years. These parasitic collection agencies keep the debt going even if it's an old debt. They can keep it going as a new debt every time they contact the person and establish the person's identity as the person responsible for the debt. In the meantime, the original creditor writes off the unpaid debt on their taxes as a loss. Even though they have already claimed this as a loss, they can turn around and sell this same debt to a collection agency and profit from the loss once again. Nobody should go to jail because they cannot pay debt, this is like going back to medieval England.

May 28 2013 at 10:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
franzr00

Taxpayers lose, as they have to cover the costs of the imprisonment. So one needs to follow the money to see who benefits. Lawyers and judges have to be involved, but who pockets the money?

In PA, several juvenile court judges were sentencing kids to prison, and getting kickbacks in return. The judges are now in prison, and they are still trying to clear the records of the wrongfully imprisoned kids.

The money trail has to lead somewhere. The person who owes the money certainly doesn't get helped. And it is not just Ohio.

It is justified legally as it is claimed it is not punishment for not paying a bill, but a contempt citation for failure to pay a judgement.

Meanwhile, bankers who ruined people's lives through their underhanded mortgage rackets walk free.

April 13 2013 at 8:21 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Ed

it is Time to Move Out of Ohio and its ghost cities

April 12 2013 at 7:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
red79vett

Some news flash - You can't trust government, any government. Yet, people vote for big government; hard not to believe most voters are stupid.

April 12 2013 at 3:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to red79vett's comment
chortles22

Just the opposite--You would never see that across the board.Vultures and vampires are not condoned by mainstream America,but in some off the map bumpkin .....aw heck, yhese people are a legend in their own minds Pathetic that they suck air when so many good people lie in coffins.

April 14 2013 at 9:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to chortles22's comment
christine

Got news for you buddy! YOUR Wrong! It happens in every big city North , South ,East or West! Peddle your bull somewhere else.

May 28 2013 at 6:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down

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