How Debtors' Prisons Are Making A Comeback In America

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Michael Krieger of Liberty Blitzkrieg,

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 A practice I thought had long since been deemed outdated (indeed it has been largely eradicated in the Western world with the exception of about 1/3 of U.S. states as well as Greece).

From Fox News:

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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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

Full article here.

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

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

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22winmag's picture

Oh shit... the 10 year Treasury just hit 3.00%.


I'm not sure debtors prison ever really went away, failing to pay child support or just about any civil judgment can easily result in "contempt of court" and jail time.

johngaltfla's picture

We've officially adopted the ChiCom model. Congrats Amerika!

CH1's picture

Just remember: If they weren't bad, they never would have been arested!

Team America! Fuck yeah!!

NoDebt's picture

So let me get this straight.  There are now private debt collection companies that can throw you in jail if you fail to pay overdue [whatever].  However, they themselves do not have to bear the cost of that imprisonment decision.

Got it.  Fantastic.  Fine work, gentlemen.  Fine work.  That's as close to printing money on the backs of your fellow citizens as you can get without being the Federal Reserve.

Skateboarder's picture

First it's private companies, then it's private prisons, as public prisons get overwhelmed.

chumbawamba's picture

Chumba didn't intend to see how the "justice" system worked from the inside but he got swallowed by the whale like Jonah nevertheless.  He was able to climb back out the first time but that whale is hungry and sucked him back in again, this time deep.  Ha!  Chumba knows new kung fu.  One thing you can do when you're inside a whale and not near the opening is to just cut a new one for yourself nearby.  Pisses off the whale something fierce, and all they can really do at that point is puke you up before you do permanent damage.

Chumba is going to start hacking away at the side of the whale now.  Watch out, it's going to hurl!

I am Chumbawamba.

4 wheel drift's picture

hmmm....   strangely.....  it makes me think of....

THE FED....   it does (supposedly) public service, i.e. keep inlfation at bay.... blah, blah, blah,,, bs,, bs,,, bs,,,  oh but wait,,,  it is a private company....  hence we cannot KNOW its owners...   right ? sarc///...

ah yes, but it [indirectly -lol] sets policy...  i.e. interest rates....  -LOL  never mind that it is an "independent & sovereign" entity  [INDEED]

and ALL its follies are covered (as in paid for) by the TAXPAYER....   (-lol  da people of the USSA)

....what a fucking farse....   these [developing] debtors prisons is just another way to assure the status quo....  indeed remains (as in status quo -lol)

as stated many times before....

no way to fix this shit....   it needs to be destroyed.... and then rebuilt from zero...   hopefully, without commies, liars, and/or do-gooders...  (or fucking religious zealots).  hint... needs to be based on a...  REPUBLIC

as sample token....   the (c)ACA would it work if patch-fixes applied ?  -LOL obviously NOT  so why assume the existing system, where laws and rules are broken daily...   by the very same arseholes who created them.... to....   keep the populace at bay....

*time for ......   ____________   YOU fill in the blank...

*i do not want to be thrown in jail for suggesting the OBVIOUS...  -LOL

Bad Attitude's picture

That's as close to printing money on the backs of your fellow citizens as you can get without being the Federal Reserve.

Don't forget all of those red-light cameras set up for "public safety" to pump out traffic tickets. The municipal leaders who approved those cameras saw it as a revenue stream.

Forward (over the cliff)!

El Vaquero's picture

One municipality near me actually got rid of those.  The state told them that they couldn't put them on state (rather than municipal) roads, which eliminated the biggest money maker out of the lot.  A couple of the city councilors started screaming about the lost revenue.  No mention of the legality or even the safety of drivers.  It was all about the revenue.  Another municipality nearby has them, and has a system where you can have "hearings" over the ticket.  They say in the ordinance that authorizes the cameras that the rules of evidence apply, then immediately exempt themselves from the rules of evidence.  However, this is unenforceable, as over 40% of people who get the tickets simply do not pay them, and there ain't shit the municipality can do about it.  Now they're talking about getting rid of it because there isn't enough revenue. 

johngaltfla's picture

FWIW, the primary contractor for traffic light cameras in America is a company known as ATS; part of Warren Buffett's empire. What they do is sweep down upon municipalities, give the  maximum legal donations to those politicians open to receiving donations then get the laws rubber stamped by the government. After that, if their are successful challenges to the constitutionality of said laws, then ATS sweeps in again, bribes, er donates to the politicians with tougher laws to force the cost of court challenges, including jury trials, back upon the accused.

That's how they did it in Florida and it is another example of how the 4th Amendment and 5th Amendment are not worth the paper they were written on nor 200 years of blood shed to protect that right and guarantee a free and fair trial for the accussed.

Stasimerika. Learn to love it or get re-educated and/or baked in an oven.

El Vaquero's picture

Redflex is big out here.  Another city that had one of the speed vans had some old guy in a robe come out one night and shoot it.  Fucking hilarious.


(It starts around the 4:30 mark.)

Spanky's picture



Don't forget all of those red-light cameras set up for "public safety" to pump out traffic tickets. The municipal leaders who approved those cameras saw it as a revenue stream. -- Bad Attitude

We had two red-light cameras in our (very) small town. Safety don't cha know... not revenue. In any case, folks got more than a little torqued about it and, after two years, finally got a new mayor (and two new city counsel members) to remove them. Then the revenue issues began to crop up -- seems the previous mayor and city manager had secretly pledged the red-light camera revenue stream to cover yet another municipal debt for one of their revenue "enhancing" projects (we'll be bankrupt soon)... The company contracted to provide the cameras and issue the citations was guaranteed $18,000 per month (per two cameras in a town of less than 1800 souls).

Frankly our slide into municipal debt began when we hired a "full-time, professional" city manager. Now we even have a municipal department of propaganda (communications specialist making >$40K), but are cutting police, fire, and municipal services... have hiked water and sewer rates by over 45%, and have one of the highest tax millages in the county.

swmnguy's picture

We got a couple dozen of those in Minneapolis.  They worked great and people actually stopped running red lights at those intersections, which has become an increasingly serious problem here.  But somebody sued over the fact that they issued a moving violation ticket that brought in an over-$150 fine, without verifying who was actually driving.

The obvious solution was suggested; make it the equivalent of a parking ticket, which carries a much lower fiine but goes to the car and owner regardless of who was driving.  That way we'd still have gotten the benefit of the noticeable reduction in red-light-running.

No dice.  There was absolutely no interest in re-writing the ordinance. Then it turned out that the whole idea had been sold to the Minneapolis City Council by the private vendor who provided the cameras and had apparently been contracted to operate them, on the condition that most of the fine money would go to the private company.  The private company refused to continue to operate the cameras without all that revenue.

So the city paid out a few million bucks to buy these things, and they worked really well, but since they couldn't divert enough money from the legal system to the connected insider corporation, they're just sitting there turned off, rusting away.

And since then I've lost one car to being T-boned by a red-light-runner, and had numerous other close calls.

Cannon Fodder's picture

And what about the accidents the cause? People get paranoid about getting a ticket from them, so they approach the light and as soon as it turns yellow they slam on their brakes causing the person behind them to rear end - instead of letting the normal flow of traffic clear the intersection (not suggesting I approve of running red lights) - I believe I've seen reports of studies that suggest they actually cause more problems than they solve.


El Vaquero's picture

Albuquerque actually got caught shortening the duration of the yellow lights at the intersections the things were posted at, and then lying about it.  Some city official swore up and down that the durations of the yellows were appropriate, gave the numbers, and then was confronted with video evidence that he was full of shit.  All of this happened live on the air. 

Yen Cross's picture

  Civil court and criminal court are 2 completely different things. In civil court judgements are enforced differently then in criminal court. Yes you could be thrown in jail for not paying child support or the court costs on a DUI ect.

  To enforce civil judgements collection agencies or the court will usually go after a persons/businesses credit or place liens on all their property until payed. Just having an unpaid bill in itself doesn't give a a private company the right to incarcerate someone. Half the country would be in jail for not paying their credit card chargeoffs, and forclosures.

Seer's picture

Thanks for helping clarify this.  I knew that people here were taking liberties, but one only has so much energy to confront stupid...

El Vaquero's picture

In many states, it's wage garnishment.  For a fun one on wage garnishment:


A New Mexico District court held a collection law firm violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and state consumer protection law by twice attempting to garnish an individual’s wages when the individual did not actually owe the alleged debt. Subsequently, the New Mexico federal jury awarded the individual $1.26 million in damages.

In the case, the creditor hired a collection law firm to collect an alleged credit card debt. The creditor provided the Social Security number, address and full name of the consumer owing the debt to the law firm. However, an employee of the law firm changed the Social Security number in the law firm’s records from that of the consumer to another individual who did not owe the debt. When the law firm contacted that individual, she asserted she did not owe the debt, but the law firm filed suit and attempted to garnish her wages. The individual’s employer protested the garnishment order claiming the garnishment was not intended for her. Years later, the collection firm attempted to garnish the individual’s wages again. The individual filed suit against the law firm asserting the firm violated the FDCPA and the New Mexico Unfair Practices Act by wrongly attempting to garnish her wages.


lex parsimoniae's picture

Precisley ND,

The prison profiteers taking a lesson from the TBTF banksters..

Private Profit/Public Risk

CH1's picture

Just remember: If they weren't bad, they never would have been arested! Team America! Fuck yeah!!

Did I really need the <sarc> tag? Or was it just BTC haters trying to get a shot in?

Dr. Engali's picture

Ignore the people too stupid to get it.

hedgeless_horseman's picture



Q: What do you call a lawyer that is so incompetent he or she cannot make it in private practice?

A: Your Honor.

Kinskian's picture

Judge: One more outburst like that and I will hold you in contempt!

Defendant: Good, then we'll be even.

max2205's picture

3 squares ain't bad if you don't have SNAP

asteroids's picture

Not yet. The final step is the involuntary removal of bodily organs for transplant to pay off debt.

InTheLandOfTheBlind's picture

in the iowa constitution it states the you can't be thrown into jail for public, private, or civil debt... i once asked a clerk of courts that if this was true, which she didn't argue, how is it that you throw people in jail for no child support.... she just laughed at me... heinous bitch knew what a crock of shit our legal system had become but she had no intention of doing the right think and exposing it

LMAOLORI's picture


As far as the debtor's prisons I agree they have never gone away it all depends on the state you are in for how seriously they pursue it.

This type of article is sensationalist if people stop to think about it that debt could belong to your mother's or brother's pension plan, or children who have to have food and shelter and aren't responsible for their parents poor decisions. 


Remember one person's debt is another person's asset.

I think some people confuse this with the feds activities they are two different things.  


If it's usary people don't like they can thank the Democrats for bringing it back.



"American Usury 

One of the fundamental issues that party managers wished to avoid was the scandal of American usury. Usury is the ancient sin of charging inflated interest rates sure to ruin the borrowers. It is considered immoral by Judaism, Christianity and Islam because usury involves the powerful using their wealth to ensnare weak and defenseless borrowers. The classic usurer offers an impossible choice that debtors cannot easily refuse. If they reject the terms of the loan, they will not be able to pay the rent or buy necessities. If they accept the usurious interest rates, their debts will accumulate until they are bankrupted (at which point the creditors claim their property). No civilized society can endure in such conditions. 

Usury used to be illegal in the United States but it was "decriminalized" in 1980--the dawn of financial deregulation. A Democratic president and Congress repealed all interest-rate controls and the federal law prohibiting usury. Thirty years later, American society is permeated with usurious practices--credit cards charging 30 percent and higher, subprime mortgages and other forms of predatory lending, the notorious "payday" loans that charge desperate working people an effective interest rate of 500 percent or more. Businesses, especially smaller firms, are also prey to usury in less direct ways. 

Needing credit to survive, they submit to the creditor's demands and are often weakened as a result, shedding workers and services that shrink customers and income. "

lex parsimoniae's picture

Anyone who has ever "borrowed" from the IRS (this would include most business start-ups) will also be intimately familiar with usury. Though they call it by various names, penalty, fee, or interest it is still usurious, and there is no way to fight it (because they are the arbiters of what is fair) & keep what you have. Pay, it, all, or you're done.

LMAOLORI's picture

I know the fix is in and usury is terrible. I only borrow what I can afford to pay back immediately now -  but I also understand that's not feasible for many to do that it was the same for me in the past. Now days though I would rather have an older vehicle or live without things rather then going into debt.

Cannon Fodder's picture

Make enough laws and sooner or later everyone is a criminal... it's the criminalization of every day life....

Sudden Debt's picture

It's actually the butcher lobbyists who won that one...


logicalman's picture

Three felonies a day - every American.

Step out of line and they've got you by the short hairs.

Rafferty's picture

"The more laws, the less justice".

Cicero knew this more than 2000 years ago.

This was it's easy to criminalize anyone who you disapprove of.


sdmjake's picture

"The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws." -Tacitus

Seer's picture

"sooner or later everyone is a criminal"

Well, as the "law" for the poor sees it perhaps, but for the REAL criminals, well, no, the law doesn't see THEM as criminals...  Therefore, the logic that everyone will be seen through the law as a criminal doesn't hold up.  Just thought that I'd point this out...

lex parsimoniae's picture

all men are created equal.. some more equal than others.

FeralSerf's picture

“The law in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.“ —Anatole France, (Jacques Anatole Francois Thibault) The Red Lily, 1894.

adolf's picture

The Jews know what they're doing.

They think they'll win, but in the long run they're screwed.  Eventually they'll celebrate the days of hitler as the good times.

Parisnights's picture

Go bite a bone douchebag.  Like your avatar-history will have to bend down to get a good look at you.

Sudden Debt's picture

4 years and almost every european jew ratted out on each other which caused them to almost be a extinct species if the war would have lasted another 4 years.

And let's just freaking forget about this jewish crap during WO2. There where shitloads of people who had a hard time and only the jews kept on complaining about it as long as it fitted into their show.
none of the survivors is still alive so it's over.










InTheLandOfTheBlind's picture

you forgot the moors.... and you probably forgot about charles martel too

logicalman's picture

I guess you choose ignorance over learning.

Milestones's picture

And pray tell what the hell has the moors and Charles Martel of 732 AD. and repelling Islam at said location have to do with the decussion? You neglet to remind the readers that the moors were not run out of Spain for nearly 800 years after the defeat at Tours, France; Had he not done so we could well be praying 5 times a day to Mecca.

The truth, the WHOLE truth my man.                             Milestones

Rafferty's picture

It's called the Holocau$$t for a reason. Or, there's no business like shoa business.


Seer's picture

Well, I suppose there may be, in this case, preferential treatment for the "homeless"... (tip: in the future if you're going to be killed then make sure it's when you're out wandering, homeless, in a desert)

Satan's picture

Did I leave the gate unlocked?

StychoKiller's picture

You mean the ones what say:  "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here!"  I'm thinking the answer is "yes!"

Promethus's picture

The topic was debtors’ prison. Yet nothing stops you Ernst Rohm butt-pirate types from breaking into your anti-Semitic blather and going off topic.  


squexx's picture

Lots of activist Jew judges who rule not according to the law, but according to the Talmud or  what the rest of the Satanic Tribe tell them to do! 2% of the population, 3 of 9 are Supremes.

You figure out the math, shitstain!