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Resurgence of America’s debtor prisons

Published time: May 31, 2011 20:59
Edited time: June 01, 2011 01:12

More than a third of all US states allow borrowers of money who find themselves unable to repay their debts in harsh economic times to be jailed.

US fudges have signed off on over 5,000 warrants since the start of 2010 in nine US counties against debtors, The Wall Street Journal found.

In Illinois and southwest Indiana, some judges jail debtors for missing court-ordered debt payments. In extreme cases people stay in jail until they raise a minimum payment,” the Star-Tribune reported, “In January, a judge sentenced a Kenney, Illinois, man to ‘indefinite incarceration’ until he came up with $300 towards a lumber yard debt.”

According to the Star-Tribune, the man was a self-employed roofer who had broken his neck and back on the job and filed for disability. He was unable to pay because he was unable to work to earn the money. His wife was forced to borrow the $300 on a credit card in order to free him from jail.

Bryce Covert, a senior communications officer at the Roosevelt Institute and the assistant editor of New Deal 2.0 said there is a clear jump in arrest warrants being issued to assist debt collectors by arresting Americans in debt, even though debtor prisons were outlawed years ago in the United States.

Arrest warrants and jail time is being used as a punishment or a cohesion to get people who aren’t paying their bills or are missing court appearances to pay up,” she said.

There should be consequences and people should take responsibility for their debts, but that is not an excuse to jail people for small debts, explained Covert. The current economy has put many Americans into situations where they cannot pay their debts.

Covert pointed out that, “Throwing them in jail isn’t actually going to solve anything because you’re not able to go out and make money to pay off those debts. You’re simply languishing in a prison.”

She argued that there should be consequences, but they need to be effective and still allow the people to live and work so they can eventually pay off their debts.

In addition, the debt collection system needs to be reformed.

Many are unaware that they are being perused by debt collectors unit they are arrested. Often they are oblivious they are past due until the police show up to arrest them. Debt collectors often mail notices to old or wrong addresses or fail to call or seek out those who owe money.

Covert explained that the police have protested arguing using police resources and warrants is a waste of resources. However, little is done to address the issue because many are unaware of it. Most politicians do not pay attention to smaller issues, and government regulators are stretched so thin they are unable to quickly respond to consumer needs.

We need a stronger regulatory system,” she argued, saying a greater focus on consumers is needed.