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Can You go to Prison For Debt?

Can You go to Prison For Debt?

Debtor’s prison doesn’t exist anymore, right? Congress passed a law against them nearly two centuries ago, and the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that it is unconstitutional to imprison those who are too poor to pay their debts under the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause.

Technically, debtors’ prison is illegal. But the number of people going to jail for not being able to pay their bills has increased over the past three decades. So what happened?

According to experts, the trend coincides with the “mass incarceration” we’ve seen in the country since the drug war began in the 1970s. Alec Karakatsanis, a lawyer who has successfully challenged the court system that jails poor debtors, said we must first normalize incarceration.

“In the 1970s and 1980s, we started imprisoning more people for fewer crimes. In the process, we lowered the bar for what constitutes an incarcerable offense and, more broadly, we are losing the sense of incarceration. Awareness of seriousness, real seriousness. If we can go to jail for possession of marijuana, why can’t we go to jail for non-payment of the loan?” Karakatsanis said.

As we begin to rely more on incarceration, more and more states are beginning to include incarceration as a possible sentence for failure to pay criminal justice debts. But what about the other bills you owe? Are you going to jail for debt?

In this blog post, I will cover the following topics:

  • Court costs, victim compensation fund and intervention fees
  • Jail for non-payment of child support
  • jailed for tax evasion
  • Stuck in jail with no bail

Court costs, victim compensation fund and intervention fees

You’ll be glad to know that the law doesn’t allow jail as a punishment for civil debts like credit cards, auto loans, and mortgages. If your bills are too many to handle, we have bankruptcy laws to help you get your finances in order, so jail time for unpaid civil debts is not allowed.

There are also federal and state consumer collection laws, such as the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), which prohibits debt collectors from criminally prosecuting you for failing to pay your debts.

But, you know, in states like Ohio, Missouri, Minnesota, Illinois, Pennsylvania, etc., there are creditors who win judgments and then send them through the court system to jail if the debtor doesn’t pay.

So, how did this happen? In some states, you may be held in contempt of court if you fail to attend a hearing or make payments as ordered by the court. If you are held in contempt of court for failing to comply with an order, the court can issue a warrant for your arrest.

When you are arrested, you go to jail and stay there until bail is paid. Of course, the amount of the bond is exactly equal to the amount of the creditor’s judgment against you.

While this may not technically count as debtor’s prison, since you’ll be in jail for failing to comply with a court order rather than an unpaid debt, the end result is the same.The moral of the story is that if you get a notice to appear because of an outstanding debt, then Court Even if you can’t afford it.

It gets even worse if you are a defendant and/or a felon. If you do not pay court costs, Victim Compensation Fund fees, compensation or intervention costs, you may find yourself back in jail. Paying court fees and expenses related to your case is usually part of your parole or probation, and if you don’t pay these fees, your parole officer could assault you and send you back to prison.

The U.S. Supreme Court has banned the use of prisons to punish indigent criminal defendants who fail to pay court fees and fines as part of their sentences. But again, many state and local courts address this issue by assessing fees, fines, and costs as part of a civil penalty, or “criminal justice debt.” So if you don’t pay these fines, you could end up in jail or back in jail.

Jail for non-payment of child support

Another debt that can land you in jail is unpaid child support. If a court orders you to pay child support and you fail to comply with the order, the person receiving the support can ask for a hearing for your non-payment.

If a judge finds that you can afford to pay court-ordered child support and you don’t, you could be sent to jail.

Contempt of court related to non-payment of child support is serious. And, depending on the complexity of the case, it could get worse. They may sue you for other crimes such as child abandonment or child abandonment – all for not paying child support.

jailed for tax evasion

Then there is the issue of unpaid taxes. If you don’t pay income tax, it can get you in a lot of trouble, just ask Wesley Snipes. There’s also tax fraud, which can include not reporting income or declaring false work expenses.

In 2016, the IRS introduced Nearly 3,400 surveys Related to tax fraud, 2,672 of these cases resulted in convictions and an average prison term of 41 months. Moral of the story: no matter how much you hate big government, pay taxes.

Stuck in jail with no bail

Another huge problem in the US is detaining people who have been arrested but cannot afford bail. These people haven’t been convicted yet, but they can’t afford to bail themselves because of the ridiculous bail amounts imposed by the court.

About 400,000 people are now in jail because they cannot pay bail. That’s almost a quarter of America’s incarcerated population. Not only does this ruin the lives of those behind bars, it also costs the US $15 billion a year.

average cost approx. $77.67 per day Prison costs about $28,000 per person per year. On top of that, the economy suffers because these people are unable to work. Add it all together and you see that it is absolutely insane to put people in jail when they can’t pay their bail.

Do you think people who aren’t convicted but can’t afford bail should go to jail? Let us know in the comments below.


Debtors’ Prisons Then and Now: FAQ

The New Bill Collector Tactic: Jail Time

Current Fiscal Year Stats

Report: Imprisoning People Who Can't Pay Bail Costs America $15 Billion a Year