New Debtors Prison:USA Social Injustice

 

The new elements of the class war has arisen. America has always had social injustice and a unequal system of government, now there is a return of Debtors prison, which is illegal.

Debtors’ prison is a prison for people who are unable to pay debt. Through the mid 19th century, debtors’ prisons (usually similar in form to locked workhouses) were a common way to deal with unpaid debt in Western Europe. Destitute persons unable to pay a court-ordered judgment would be sentenced to these prisons until they had worked off their debt via labor or secured outside funds to pay the balance; the product of their labor went towards both the costs of their incarceration and their accrued debt. Increasing access and lenience throughout the history of bankruptcy law have made prison terms for unaggregated indigence illegal over most of the world.

Since the late 20th century, the term debtors’ prison has also sometimes been applied by social justice critics to criminal justice systems in which a court can sentence someone to prison over “willfully” unpaid criminal fees, usually following the order of a judge. For example, in some jurisdictions within the United States, people can be held in contempt of court and jailed after willful non-payment of child support, garnishments, confiscations, fines, or back taxes. Additionally, though properly served civil duties over private debts in nations such as the United States will merely result in a default judgment being rendered in absentia if the defendant willfully declines to appear by law, a substantial number of indigent debtors are legally incarcerated for the crime of failing to appear at civil debt proceedings as ordered by a judge. In this case, the crime is not indigence, but disobeying the judge’s order to appear before the court. Critics argue that the “willful” terminology is subject to individual mens rea determination by a judge, rather than statute, and that since this presents the potential for judges to incarcerate legitimately indigent individuals, it amounts to a de facto “debtors’ prison” system.

CBS News reports: Thousands of Americans are sent to jail not for committing a crime, but because they can’t afford to pay for traffic tickets, medical bills and court fees.

If that sounds like a debtors’ prison, a legal relic which was abolished in this country in the 1830s, that’s because it is. And courts and judges in states across the land are violating the Constitution by incarcerating people for being unable to pay such debts.

Ask Jack Dawley, 55, an unemployed man in Ohio who between 2007 and 2012 spent a total of 16 days in jail in a Huron County lock-up for failing to pay roughly $1,500 in legal fines he’d incurred in the 1990s. The fines stemmed from Dawley’s convictions for driving under the influence and other offenses. After his release from a Wisconsin correctional facility, Dawley, who admits he had struggled with drugs and alcohol, got clean. But if he put his substance problems behind him, Dawley’s couldn’t outrun his debts.

Struggling to find a job and dealing with the effects of a back injury, he fell behind on repayments to the municipal court in Norwalk, Ohio. He was arrested six years ago and sent to jail for not paying his original court fines. Although Dawley was put on a monthly payment plan, during his latest stint behind bars in 2012 the court ordered him to pay off his entire remaining debt.

David Brown wrote:A former drug addict in King County, Washington, she was convicted on four felony counts nine years ago. Although she has not committed any new crimes in the past nine years, her inability to make sufficient payments combined with the mandatory 12 percent interest rate on all unpaid legal financial obligations in Washington has caused her debt to balloon to $60,000.

In addition to this excessive financial burden, Lisa has been imprisoned three different times in the past nine years, for a total of 40 days, solely for nonpayment of her legal debts. She understandably feels overwhelmed by the situation and told the ACLU about her debt, “It’s just like a nightmare, you know? Like is this ever going to go away? And the only thing, I keep hearing the judge say ‘if you have to pay $20 for the rest of your life, that is what you are going to be doing.’ ”

At the root of this systematic exploitation is an attempt to pad state coffers. Both the ACLU and the Brennan Center acknowledge state budget cuts, under the impact of the financial crisis, as the driving force for these efforts to raise funds through the courts. However, refunding court and public defender systems is the last thing on the minds of Republican and Democratic politicians who continue their calls for austerity.

” I called my brother, and they told him I have to pay off the whole fine in order for me to get out,” he said. “That was $900. So I sat my whole 10 days [in jail.]”

David Brown wrote: A former drug addict in King County, Washington, she was convicted on four felony counts nine years ago. Although she has not committed any new crimes in the past nine years, her inability to make sufficient payments combined with the mandatory 12 percent interest rate on all unpaid legal financial obligations in Washington has caused her debt to balloon to $60,000.

In addition to this excessive financial burden, Lisa has been imprisoned three different times in the past nine years, for a total of 40 days, solely for nonpayment of her legal debts. She understandably feels overwhelmed by the situation and told the ACLU about her debt, “It’s just like a nightmare, you know? Like is this ever going to go away? And the only thing, I keep hearing the judge say ‘if you have to pay $20 for the rest of your life, that is what you are going to be doing.’ ”

At the root of this systematic exploitation is an attempt to pad state coffers. Both the ACLU and the Brennan Center acknowledge state budget cuts, under the impact of the financial crisis, as the driving force for these efforts to raise funds through the courts. However, refunding court and public defender systems is the last thing on the minds of Republican and Democratic politicians who continue their calls for austerity.

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