ACLU Finds Courts Nationwide Ordering Consumers to Be Arrested and Jailed at the Bidding of Private Debt Collection Companies

First-Ever National Report on Court Practices in Georgia and 25 Other States That Coerce Payments From People in Debt Without Due Process

Affiliate: ACLU of Georgia
February 21, 2018 2:00 pm

ACLU Affiliate
ACLU of Georgia
Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States

In the first-ever report on the extent and impact of cooperation between courts and the private debt collection industry nationwide, the American Civil Liberties Union found courts in 26 states, including Georgia, in which judges issued arrest warrants for alleged debtors at the request of private debt collectors.

“Private corporations should never use our taxpayer-funded criminal justice system to to jail us, take away our freedom, or take us from our families, communities, and jobs simply because we may owe them money,” stated Andrea Young, Executive Director of the ACLU of Georgia. “Yet, throughout our nation and the state of Georgia, powerful corporations have turned our taxpayer-funded prosecutors, judges, sheriff’s, police, and courts into their own private collection agents. This practice betrays our fundamental constitutional principles of due process and equal protection under the law. We must and can stop this unlawful use of our government’s resources.”

Although Congress abolished debtors’ prisons in 1833, private debt collectors are using the government’s power to arrest and jail people who may owe money, even when a debt is in dispute or when the ability to pay is nonexistent. These alleged debts may be as small as a few dollars and may include every kind of consumer debt such as utility bills, medical fees, car payments, or student loans.

  • A Georgia woman was arrested while caring for her terminally ill mother. A debt collection company had bought a 6-year-old rental debt her landlord claimed she owed after evicting her from her trailer home. She was jailed overnight. Her mother died two days later. (Click here to read her story on page 24 of the report.)

An estimated 77 million Americans – one in three adults – have a debt that has been turned over to a private collection agency. In Georgia and 25 other states, millions are threatened with arrest and jail time. In more than half the country, an unpaid car loan or a utility bill that is in arrears can result in being threatened with or put in jail.

The report provides key recommendations that the Georgia state legislature, court rules committees, local district attorneys, and the state attorney general can implement to protect people living in Georgia from these forms of intimidation and threats.

Click here for a copy of the report: A Pound of Flesh: The Criminalization of Private Debt.

Click here for an online version of this press release.

By completing this form, I agree to receive occasional emails per the terms of the ACLU’s privacy policy.

ACLU's Vision

The American Civil Liberties Union is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America.