The Debtors Prison System Resurrected From The Grave
Thursday, December 26, 2013
THIS EXCELLENT ARTICLE was WRITTEN BY MICHAEL EDWARDS, ACTIVIST POST & SHOWS UP STEPS OF HELP:
|Debtors prisons were abolished on the federal level in 1833. In Accomack County, VA it took until 1849.|
Michael Edwards Activist Post
It’s not a crime to owe money, and debtors’ prisons were abolished in the United States in the 19th century. But people are routinely being thrown in jail for failing to pay debts. In Minnesota, which has some of the most creditor-friendly laws in the country, the use of arrest warrants against debtors has jumped 60 percent over the past four years, with 845 cases in 2009, a Star Tribune analysis of state court data has found. (emphasis added)
In our modern era of debt servitude, a PR Push has been designed to reintroduce a serious discussion of debtors prisons as a sound solution. What goes beyond alarming is that the full-fledged return of debtors prisons might be seen as appropriately terrifying, as well as a profitable investment opportunity and a politically sound decision to be made by state governments struggling with their own looming bankruptcies, and a Federal government struggling politically with the concept of a jobless recovery that refuses to materialize.
When a court order to pay a debt is issued and ignored, it then qualifies as a civil contempt of court. At that point, the judge becomes a literal dictator with the ability to imprison a person indefinitely for the violation. The Constitution explicitly prohibits incarceration for failure to pay debts, but it is the violation of a court order that gives judges free rein to impose draconian punishments. In this way, an end-run around the Constitution can become frighteningly commonplace.(2)
“It’s a waste of taxpayer resources, and it undermines the integrity of the justice system,” Carl Takei, staff attorney for the ACLU’s National Prison Project, told FoxNews.com.
“The problem is it’s not actually much of a money-making proposition … to throw people in jail for fines and fees when they can’t afford it. If counties weren’t spending the money jailing people for not paying debts, they could be spending the money in other ways.”
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. (Source)
Coupled with courts ignoring Supreme Court rulings in 1970, 1971 and 1983, the above news story also highlights the increased use of private companies who have been empowered with the authority to arrest, incarcerate and extract whatever fines they are able to. This led to one judge calling it an “extortion racket.”
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.
America already has a record-high ratio of people in prison, with no signs of the trend reversing as private corporations like Wackenhut, referred to as a “Free Market in Human Misery,” have long been enlisted to turn government directives into shareholder profit. One might even deign to call it blatant fascism in its purest form, as government legislation leads offenders directly into private company coffers. The prison-industrial complex has already capitalized on government actions like The War on Drugs. A prime example is how The California Correctional Peace Officers Association helped fuel the prison-building boom as a cozy relationship was established on Capitol Hill through influence peddling.(3)
Wackenhut (now subsumed into G4S, the largest security company in the world) is another of these mega private prison companies, and was started by an FBI agent, George Wackenhut, who is famous for developing millions of dossiers on America’s “potential subversives” in the sixties. He was exposed as being an integral player within the shadow CIA.(5)
The ACLU found that seven out of 11 counties they studied (in Ohio) 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.
More recently in Colorado, the state ACLU completed a report on “pay or serve” programs throughout the state. In the case of Wheatridge and Northglenn counties, the penalty was one day in the clink for every $50 owed; in Westminster, every offender got an automatic 10 days in jail.
The report also found that one jail racked up more than $70,000 in costs for incarcerating 154 people over a five-month period in 2012 — and only managed to collect $40,000 in overdue fines and fees in that time.
This is, therefore, not only an illegal system – it is a broken one, at least for taxpayers and the surrounding society in which they live.
Reform advocates are proposing the following solutions:
- Courts should investigate whether or not a person has the ability to pay. If not, community service may be considered as a form of payment.
- Judges must be made aware that they have the ability to waive fines and fees.
- Courts must properly determine if incarceration would impact current employment; thwart obtaining a job being imminently sought; and understand that extended incarceration would affect chances at future employment. (Statistics quoted by the article above show that 60 percent of those imprisoned are still out of work 1 year later.)
- Abolish or severely restrict the farming out of collections and legal power to private companies.
- The Supreme Court must continue educating judges and personnel on the statutes and constitutional restrictions of collecting fines and fees, as they have begun doing in Ohio, issuing “bench cards” as a quick reference.
- The court must establish a willful refusal to pay, prior to imposing any sentence. Jail time must be given a per diem dollar credit.
- Courts must provide a clearly worded, printed document to the accused which states their rights; this information also should be made available on court webpages.
- All who have been wrongfully incarcerated must immediately receive retroactive credit. Additional fees incurred as the result of illegal arrests and warrants must be canceled.
To read more about the personal stories of those who have been victimized by the system currently in place in Ohio, as well as additional suggestions for reform, please see the ACLU’s report 24-page report “The Outskirts of Hope.” as well as The Brennan Center’s 38-page “Toolkit for Action.”