Debtors’ Prisons Make a Comeback

Across the U.S., debts to private companies are landing poor people in jail.

By Alex Kane, AlterNet

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet. Kawana Young, a single mother of two kids, was arrested in Michigan after failing to pay money she owed as a result of minor traffic offenses. She was recently laid off from her job, and could not pay the fees [RETURN TO ARTICLE]

  • Reader Comments

    Send my kids to debtors prison….then watch your back.

    Posted by Aneesia on Feb 13, 2013 at 10:00 AM

    The headline says “debts to private companies” but the article is mostly about unpaid speeding tickets.

    Posted by f_galton on Feb 13, 2013 at 2:17 PM

    It’s a very sad state of affairs but what other options are there? Also, its important to point out that this is happening in other countries as well, not just the United States. Sure the article deals mainly with minor debts/offences but a staggering amount of Americans have outstanding debts. Have a look at this statistic from 2010…I’m sure it’s gotten even worse by now:…

    Posted by Frank Wall on Feb 14, 2013 at 9:20 AM

    The problem with debtors’ prisons is the chance for wide spread abuse. During the years after the Civil War, black men and boys were scooped up off the streets and sent to prison where they were leased to private companies to “pay off their fines and debts.” Men who had done nothing more than walking into the wrong town were arrested for a variety of “crimes” - often vagrancy - and carted off to mills, farms, or mines where they work for years even decades to pay off an ever growing “bill.” The same could easily happen today. With the proliferation of for-profit prisons it is not outside of possibility to see a repeat of the kinds of abuses that were far too common in the late 19th and early 20th Century. Something must be done, but debtor prisons run by for-profit companies is not the answer.

    Posted by Cozman57 on Feb 14, 2013 at 11:05 AM

    Men making child support who lose their good paying jobs and now can not pay the required child support fase jail also.  I know of a case that when the father asked to lower payments even though he was working 2 jobs and attempting to pay, the judge said no to his request and placed him in jail.  He lost the jobs and after a few more jail times, his ability for employment crashed.  The judge demanded of a job counselor to get him a job paying over a certian limit.  When the counselor remarked that the wage request could not be met, the judge replied the person will get jail time. 
    The new game in time, in your face abd make you pay for what you can not control.

    Posted by 6384601jh on Feb 15, 2013 at 9:00 PM

    .The problem with most of these caases is that the Judge extracts an agreement made by people to pay monies they do not have…..  Rather than stand up an just say no they put themselves in the bind - because it then becomes comtemt of court, when they do not pay the agreed amount.  JUDGES should be dis-barred for this practice and I do not mean - today’s slap on the wrist of quietly being re-instated where no-one sees it…..PERMANENT DIS-BARMENT…

    Posted by William Bednarz on Feb 16, 2013 at 10:56 AM

    Now I understand why the study of US history has been so marginalized in recent decades. Without this knowledge, we’re repeating all of the mistakes of the past, with the inevitable consequences.  It’s great for the ruling rich, but has largely brought an end to the US as we knew it. Face it, folks, even liberals have subtly embraced the notion that the poor are something less than human, not entitled to fundamental human rights, so we don’t even talk about what is being done to this part of the population. As long as we refuse to have a legitimate discussion about American poverty, the middle class—those who had at least a margin of power in politics—will continue to be phased out.

    Posted by DHFabian on Feb 17, 2013 at 1:42 PM

    Through years of anti-poor propaganda, starting with Reagan, Americans were taught to regard the poor as something less than equal human beings. Even liberals have written poverty and our poor out of the discussion beyond the periodic call for job creation (note: You can’t get a job without a home address, phone, clean clothes, bus fare.) Liberals (in general) at least implicitly embraced the idea that we have poverty because a segment of the population is inferior, NOT because there is anything wrong with our economic system. Liberals were a little uncomfortable about this for years.  But then Bill Clinton made it cool to complete the dehumanization of our poor. Of course middle classers don’t care if we deal with poverty by throwing the poor in prison, removing them from our sight. We’ve engaged in a long pep rally for the elevated, celebrated middle class. Its all about, only about, middle class workers today! By censoring out any legitimate discussion of US poverty, the middle class is able to feel immune from it, sure that THEY will never become destitute. They are people, the poor are not. As long as we maintain this myth, ignoring poverty, the super-rich can continue with their agenda without interference.

    Posted by DHFabian on Feb 17, 2013 at 2:18 PM

    We already do this. Using prison labor has proved quite profitable. Like workfare labor, they have no workers’ rights, and can be paid a fraction of the minimum wage to do jobs that once paid free Americans a middle class wage.

    Posted by DHFabian on Feb 17, 2013 at 2:21 PM

    There has always been a different law for the rich and the poor, but what’s new is that the rich can now get even richer from throwing the poor in prisons which they themselves will never inhabit. One more disgrace for the land of the free and the home of the brave.

    Posted by Corovian on Feb 26, 2013 at 9:15 AM