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Report: Ohio Is Illegally Throwing Poor People In Jail For Owing Money

The Americans Civil Liberties Union on Friday revealed that courts in Ohio are illegally throwing poor people in jail for being unable to pay off a debt.

In a report titled, “The Outskirts of Hope,” (PDF) the ACLU shines a light on a harrowing “debtors’ prison” system in Ohio — one that violates both the United States’ and the Ohio constitution. Ohioans are being jailed for “as small as a few hundred dollars,” despite the constitutional violation, and the economic evidence that it costs the state more to pay for their jail sentence than the amount of the debt.

In its report, the ACLU details the stories of several people sent to debtors’ prison. Jack Dawley owed $1,500 in “fines and costs in the Norwalk Municipal Court,” and was behind on child support payments, leading the Ohio courts to send him to prison in Wisconsin for 3 and a half years. He still struggles with trying to repay the fines. Another victim of the system, single mother Tricia Metcalf, was taken to jail each and every time she wasn’t able to make her $50-a-month payments on fines for writing bad checks. Megan Sharp, whose husband is currently in jail on overdue fines, was unable to pay $300 in fines for driving on a suspended license and went to jail for 10 days. When she got out, she owed $200 more on top of the original amount. Both she and her husband are unemployed.

The AP has a round up of the charges that the ACLU levels against Ohio, writ large:

— In the second half of last year, more than one in every five of all bookings in the Huron County jail — originating from Norwalk Municipal Court cases — involved a failure to pay fines.

— In suburban Cleveland, Parma Municipal Court jailed at least 45 defendants for failure to pay fines and costs between July 15 and August 31, 2012.

— During the same period, Sandusky Municipal Court jailed at least 75 people for similar charges.

Court officials have pledged to look into the accusations.

In 2011, ThinkProgress reported on how the deep recession and loss of employment had led to a return of debtor’s prisons. People were reportedly put in jail for something as small as missing a single furniture payment.

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If they enforced bank regulations like they do park rules, we wouldn't be in this mess

by on Apr. 6, 2013 at 9:29 AM
Replies (21-25):
by on Apr. 6, 2013 at 12:40 PM

Yes, as it applies to the original post.  Failure to pay child support IS a jailable offense.  Also if a person is convicted of a crime and they fail to pay their restitution/court fees then that persons bail can be revoked (or violation of probation) and they face the possiblility of being sent to jail - that is not the same thing as not paying your credit cards and going to jail.  Debtors prison and failure to pay court ordered fines related to a non-debt crime are two different scenarios. The article that accompanied the ORIGINAL post further confuses the issue. 

Quoting Themis_Defleo:

These fines were part of sentences for criminal acts that carry jail time. Often fines were levied with jail suspended on condition fines are paid. If the fines are not paid, then the suspended jail time is invoked because the criminal is not in compliance with his sentence.


by Bronze Member on Apr. 6, 2013 at 1:58 PM
Option c) agree to do service, fail to show up and go to jail. Ohio courts operate on the fines. Municipal courts don't receive tax dollars.

Quoting brookiecookie87:

So Option A) Arrest-> More tax payer dollars. The person spends time in jail possibly losing whatever job they have. The jail time reflects on them making it harder for them to land a future job.

B) Community Service. The person pays back the fine with time and work. Helps out the community. Possibly gets a reference for a future job and gets to keep his/her current job (If he/she has one).

One has a bunch of negatives one has a bunch of positives.

Though one does make people a lot of money (Private Prisons) and one doesn't.

Quoting Kylie819:


Quoting Themis_Defleo:

These fines were part of sentences for criminal acts that carry jail time. Often fines were levied with jail suspended on condition fines are paid. If the fines are not paid, then the suspended jail time is invoked because the criminal is not in compliance with his sentence.

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by Bronze Member on Apr. 6, 2013 at 3:22 PM
These people are jailed for failing to obey a summons - not for failing to pay the debt. If they are insolvent, the debtors examination would show they are judgment proof. People are jailed for failing to appear -not for failing to pay when there is a civil judgment as here.

This is a different scenario entirely than in the OP.

Quoting lizzielouaf:

To most of us, "debtors' prison" sounds like an archaic institution, something straight out of a Dickens novel. But the idea of jailing people who can't pay what they owe is alive and well in 21st-century America.

According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, debt collectors in Missouri, Illinois, Alabama and other states are using a legal loophole to justify jailing poor citizens who legitimately cannot pay their debts.

Here's how clever payday lenders work the system in Missouri -- where, it should be noted, jailing someone for unpaid debts is illegal under the state constitution.

First, explains St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the creditor gets a judgment in civil court that a debtor hasn't paid a sum that he owes. Then, the debtor is summoned to court for an "examination": a review of their financial assets.

If the debtor fails to show up for the examination -- as often happens in such cases -- the creditor can ask for a "body attachment" -- essentially, a warrant for the debtor's arrest. At that point, the police can haul the debtor in and jail them until there's a court hearing, or until they pay the bond. No coincidence, the bond is usually set at the amount of the original debt. As the Dispatch notes:

"Debtors are sometimes summoned to court repeatedly, increasing chances that they'll miss a date and be arrested. Critics note that judges often set the debtor's release bond at the amount of the debt and turn the bond money over to the creditor -- essentially turning publicly financed police and court employees into private debt collectors for predatory lenders."

Standing Up for Those Who Can't Pay

The practice -- in addition to putting an additional squeeze on poor people -- turns courts and police into enforcers for private creditors, from payday lenders tohealth care providers. The situation prompted Illinois legislators in July to pass a bill "to protect vulnerable consumers from being hauled to jail over unpaid debts," in the words of state Attorney General Lisa Madigan. The Debtors' Rights Act of 2012 requires two "pay or appear" court notices to be sent to debtors before an arrest can be made, and also prevents creditors from calling for multiple examinations unless the debtor's financial state has significantly changed.

Many of the victims, Madigan noted at the time, were living on funds that are legally protected from being used for outstanding debt judgments, such as Social Security, unemployment insurance or veterans' benefits. In one case she cited, an Illinois court brought a "pay or appear" order against a mentally disabled man living on legally protected disability benefits of $690 a month. The man told the court of his circumstances but was still ordered to pay $100 a month or appear in court once a month for a three-year period.

"It is outrageous to think in this day and age that creditors are manipulating the courts, even threatening jail time, to extract whatever they could from people who could least afford to pay," Madigan said. "This law corrects that gross oversight and puts a stop to throwing people in jail for being poor while still allowing fair debt collection when people have the means to pay their debts."

Illinois notwithstanding, the modern-day debtors' prison probably isn't going away anytime soon given the current economic climate: More than a third of U.S. states allow borrowers who can't or won't pay their debts to be jailed.
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by Gold Member on Apr. 6, 2013 at 3:43 PM
It's going to cost around 100 thousand to keep that man in prison for 3 1/2 years! I looked it up and Ohio has privatized prisons, so now I wonder if something shady is going on, other than throwing people in jail for not paying fines!
by Bronze Member on Apr. 6, 2013 at 3:49 PM
its not illegal its called they did illegal shit didn't pay there fines so they get locked up simple as that.
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