Debtors Prisons

Across the country, in the face of mounting budget deficits, states are more aggressively going after poor people who have already served their criminal sentences and jailing them for failing to pay their legal debts. These modern-day debtors' prisons impose devastating human costs, waste taxpayer money and resources, undermine our criminal justice system, are racially skewed, and create a two-tiered system of justice.

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Poverty Is Not a Crime, Whether You Live in DeKalb County or Ferguson or Anywhere Else

Poverty Is Not a Crime, Whether You Live in DeKalb County or Ferguson or Anywhere Else

By Nusrat Choudhury, Staff Attorney, ACLU Racial Justice Program at 4:42pm
Kevin Thompson, a black teenager in Georgia, was jailed for five days in December 2014 because he could not afford to pay court-ordered fines and company fees related to a traffic ticket.
The DOJ Ferguson Report Isn’t Just an Indictment of Ferguson Police, but of American Policing Writ Large

The DOJ Ferguson Report Isn’t Just an Indictment of Ferguson Police, but of American Policing Writ Large

By Ezekiel Edwards, Director, ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project at 11:16am

What the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division uncovered in Ferguson – racially biased policing on steroids, encouraged by a court system whose budget was dependent on the extortion of its city's residents – isn't just a dark look into an…

For-Profit Companies Are Helping to Put People In Jail for Being Poor. I Should Know, I Was One of Them.

For-Profit Companies Are Helping to Put People In Jail for Being Poor. I Should Know, I Was One of Them.

By Kevin Thompson at 10:50am

In December, I was jailed for five days simply because I couldn't afford to pay $838 in traffic fines and fees to DeKalb County and a private probation company called Judicial Correction Services, Inc.

It sounds unbelievable, but that's exactly…

A Lesson From Ferguson: Driving While Black Leads to Jailed for Being Poor

A Lesson From Ferguson: Driving While Black Leads to Jailed for Being Poor

By Nusrat Choudhury, Staff Attorney, ACLU Racial Justice Program at 3:24pm

The tragic killing of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, last August has brought much needed attention to the epidemic of racialized policing in America. In Ferguson and cities throughout the country, police stop, search, and arrest black…

WTF? Our Tax Dollars Are Being Spent to Jail a Vet for Being Poor

WTF? Our Tax Dollars Are Being Spent to Jail a Vet for Being Poor

By Carl Takei, ACLU National Prison Project at 8:10pm

After he returned from Iraq both homeless and out of work, Stephan Papa spent one night in a drunken misadventure. Convicted of destruction of property and resisting arrest, Mr. Papa was sentenced to pay $2600 in fines and court fees.

If Mr.…

Court-Sanctioned Extortion by Private Probation Companies: Modern Debtors' Prisons

Court-Sanctioned Extortion by Private Probation Companies: Modern Debtors' Prisons

By Nusrat Choudhury, Staff Attorney, ACLU Racial Justice Program at 10:46am

Yesterday, Human Rights Watch released Profiting from Probation, a report that confirms the ACLU's worst fears about the privatization of probation services: for-profit companies are increasingly working with county and city courts around the country…

Still Locking People Up for Being Poor? Really?! It's 2014.

Still Locking People Up for Being Poor? Really?! It's 2014.

By Mike Brickner, ACLU of Ohio at 2:43pm

Debtors' prisons sound like ancient history, right? Unfortunately, they're all too common across the United States. In spite of the Constitution, case law, and common sense, low-income people are routinely jailed in places as far-flung as Georgia…

The Outskirts of Hope: How Ohio’s Debtors' Prisons are Ruining Lives and Costing Communities

The Outskirts of Hope: How Ohio’s Debtors' Prisons are Ruining Lives and Costing Communities

By Mike Brickner, ACLU of Ohio at 11:44am

They are unconstitutional. They are against state law. And yet, debtors’ prisons – jailing people because they are too poor to pay their court...

Breaking the Addiction to Incarceration: Weekly Highlights

By Alex Stamm, ACLU Center for Justice at 2:26pm

Today, the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world. With over 2.3 million men and women living behind bars, our imprisonment rate is the highest it’s ever been in U.S. history. And yet, our criminal justice system…

Courts Should Stop Jailing People for Being Poor

Courts Should Stop Jailing People for Being Poor

By Carl Takei, ACLU National Prison Project at 3:02pm

Across the country, cash-strapped cities and counties are throwing poor defendants in jail for failing to pay legal debts that they can never hope to manage. On Monday, the New York Times told the story of Gina Ray, whose $179 speeding ticket…

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