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A debtors' prison is a
prison A prison, also known as a jail or gaol (dated, English language in England, standard English, Australian English, Australian, and Huron Historic Gaol, historically in Canada), penitentiary (American English and Canadian English), detention ...

prison
for
people A people is any plurality of person A person (plural people or persons) is a being that has certain capacities or attributes such as reason Reason is the capacity of consciously applying logic Logic is an interdisciplinary field wh ...
who are unable to pay
debt Debt is an obligation that requires one party, the debtor A debtor or debitor is a legal entity (legal person) that owes a debt Debt is an obligation that requires one party, the debtor, to pay money or other agreed-upon value to ...

debt
. Through the mid-19th century, debtors' prisons (usually similar in form to locked
workhouses In Britain, a workhouse () was a total institution where those unable to support themselves financially were offered accommodation and employment. (In Scotland, they were usually known as poorhouse A poorhouse or workhouse is a government-r ...
) were a common way to deal with unpaid debt in
Western Europe Western Europe is the western region of Europe Europe is a continent A continent is any of several large landmasses. Generally identified by convention (norm), convention rather than any strict criteria, up to seven geographical r ...

Western Europe
.Cory, Lucinda
"A Historical Perspective on Bankruptcy"
, ''On the Docket'', Volume 2, Issue 2, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of Rhode Island, April/May/June 2000, retrieved December 20, 2007.
Destitute persons who were unable to pay a court-ordered judgment would be incarcerated in these prisons until they had worked off their debt via labour or secured outside funds to pay the balance. The product of their labour 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 unaggravated indigence obsolete over most of the world. Since the late 20th century, the term ''debtors' prison'' has also sometimes been applied by critics to
criminal justice system Criminal justice is the delivery of justice Justice, in its broadest sense, is the principle that people receive that which they deserve, with the interpretation of what then constitutes "deserving" being impacted upon by numerous fields ...
s in which a court can sentence someone to prison over willfully unpaid criminal fees, usually following the order of a
judge A judge is a person who presides over court A court is any person or institution, often as a government A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, generally a State (polity), state. In th ...

judge
. For example, in some jurisdictions within the
United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country Continental United States, primarily located in North America. It consists of 50 U.S. state, states, a Washington, D.C., ...

United States
, people can be held in
contempt of court Contempt of court, often referred to simply as "contempt", is the offense of being disobedient to or disrespectful toward a court A court is any person or institution, often as a government A government is the system or group o ...
and jailed after willful non-payment of
child support Child support (or child maintenance) is an ongoing, periodic payment made by a parent for the financial benefit of a child (or parent, caregiver, guardian, or state) following the end of a marriage or other similar relationship. Child maintenance ...
, 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 Default judgment is a binding judgment Judgement (or US spelling judgment) is also known as ''adjudication Adjudication is the legal process by which an arbitration, arbiter or judge reviews evidence (law), evidence and argumentation, includi ...
being rendered ''
in absentia is Latin for absence. , a legal term, is Latin for "in the absence" or "while absent". may also refer to: * Award in absentia * Declared death in absentia, or simply, death in absentia, legally declared death without a body * Election in absen ...
'' 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 ''Mens rea'' (; Law Latin Law Latin, sometimes written L.L. or L. Lat., and sometimes derisively called Dog Latin Dog Latin, also known as Cod Latin, macaronic Latin, mock Latin, or Canis Latinicus, refers to the creation of a phrase In every ...
'' 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.


History


Medieval Europe

During Europe's
Middle Ages In the history of Europe The history of Europe concerns itself with the discovery and collection, the study, organization and presentation and the interpretation of past events and affairs of the people of Europe since the beginning of ...
, debtors, both men and women, were locked up together in a single, large cell until their families paid their debt. Debt prisoners often died of diseases contracted from other debt prisoners. Conditions included starvation and abuse from other prisoners. If the father of a family was imprisoned for debt, the family business often suffered while the mother and children fell into poverty. Unable to pay the debt, the father often remained in debtors' prison for many years. Some debt prisoners were released to become
serf Serfdom was the status of many peasant A peasant is a pre-industrial Pre-industrial society refers to social attributes and forms of political and cultural organization that were prevalent before the advent of the Industrial Revoluti ...
s or
indentured servant Indentured servitude is a form of labor in which a person is contracted to work without salary for a specific number of years. The contract, called an "indenture", may be entered voluntarily for eventual compensation or debt repayment, or it may b ...
s (
debt bondage Debt bondage, also known as debt slavery, bonded labour, or peonage, is the pledge of a person's services as security for the repayment for a debt or other obligation, where the terms of the repayment are not clearly or reasonably stated, and the ...
) until they paid off their debt in labor.


Medieval Islamic Middle East

Imprisonment for debt was also practised in Islam. Debtors who refused to pay their debts could be detained for several months in order to exert pressure on them. If they proved insolvent, they were released before being placed under legal guardianship.


By region


Canada


Council of Europe

Article 1 of Protocol 4 of the
European Convention on Human Rights The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR; formally the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms) is an international convention to protect human rights and political freedoms in Europe. Drafted in 1950 by t ...
prohibits the imprisonment of people for breach of a contract. Turkey has signed but never ratified Protocol 4.


France

France allows for ''contrainte par corps'', now denominated ''contrainte judiciaire'', for money owed to the State by solvent debtors aged from 18 to 65; its length is limited following the amount of the debt and aims to pressure the debtor to pay his debts, consequently the owed money stays owed to the State.


Germany

In the late Middle Ages, and at the beginning of the modern era, public law was codified in Germany. This served to standardize the coercive arrest (''Pressionshaft''), and got rid of the many arbitrary sanctions that were not universal. In some areas (like Nürnberg) the debtor could sell or redistribute their debt. In most of the cities, the towers and city fortifications functioned as jails. For certain sanctions there were designated prisons, hence some towers being called debtors' prison (''Schuldturm''). The term ''Schuldturm'', outside of the Saxon constitution, became the catchword for public law debtors' prison. In the early modern era, the debtor's detainment or citizen's arrest remained valid in Germany. Sometimes it was used as a tool to compel payment, other times it was used to secure the arrest of an individual and ensure a trial against them in order to garnish wages,
replevin Replevin () or claim and delivery (sometimes called revendication) is a legal remedy A legal remedy, also referred to as judicial relief or a judicial remedy, is the means with which a court of law A court is any person or institution, oft ...
or a form of
trover Trover () is a form of lawsuit in common-law In law, common law (also known as judicial precedent or judge-made law, or case law) is the body of law created by judges and similar quasi-judicial tribunals A tribunal, generally, is any per ...
. This practice was particularly disgraceful to a person's identity, but had different rules than criminal trials. It was more similar to the modern enforcement of sentences (''Strafvollzug'') e.g. the debtor would be able to work off their debt for a certain number of days, graduated by how much they owed. The
North German Confederation The North German Confederation (german: Norddeutscher Bund) was the German German(s) may refer to: Common uses * of or related to Germany * Germans, Germanic ethnic group, citizens of Germany or people of German ancestry * For citizens of ...
eliminated debtors' prisons on May 29, 1868. At present a comparable concept to debtors' prison still exists in various forms in Germany: * A maximum of 6 weeks coercive arrest for failure to pay a civil fine (''Bußgeld''). * A maximum of 6 months coercive arrest for failure to issue an oath of not being able to pay any kind of liability. * As an alternative sentence, if a criminal fine (''Geldstrafe'') is not paid, up to 6 months. * As a personal arrest for the securing of a foreclosure or garnishment on wages. * Failure to pay child support as ordered by court, which is a crime under the Penal Code.


Netherlands

In Dutch law ''gijzeling'' (litt.: take in as hostage) can be ordered by a judge when people refuse to (appear as) witness, or don't pay off their fines or debts. The imprisonment does not cancel the due amount and interest.


England and Wales

In England, during the 18th and 19th centuries, 10,000 people were imprisoned for debt each year. A prison term did not alleviate a person's debt, however; an inmate was typically required to repay the creditor in-full before being released. In
England England is a Countries of the United Kingdom, country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to its west and Scotland to its north. The Irish Sea lies northwest of England and the Celtic Sea to the southwest. E ...

England
and
Wales Wales ( cy, Cymru ) is a Countries of the United Kingdom, country that is part of the United Kingdom. It is bordered by England to the Wales–England border, east, the Irish Sea to the north and west, and the Bristol Channel to the south. It ...
, debtors' prisons varied in the amount of freedom they allowed the debtor. With a little money, a debtor could pay for some freedoms; some prisons allowed inmates to conduct business and to receive visitors; others (including the
Fleet Fleet may refer to: Vehicles *Fishing fleet A fishing fleet is an aggregate of commercial fishing Ship, vessels. The term may be used of all vessels operating out of a particular port, all vessels engaged in a particular type of fishing (as in t ...
and
King's Bench Prison The King's Bench Prison was a prison in Southwark, south London, England, from medieval times until it closed in 1880. It took its name from the King's Bench court of law in which cases of defamation, bankruptcy and other misdemeanours were hear ...
s) even allowed inmates to live a short distance outside the prison—a practice known as the 'Liberty of the Rules'—and the Fleet even tolerated clandestine '
Fleet Marriage A Fleet Marriage was a common example of an irregular or a clandestine marriage taking place in England before the Marriage Act 1753 came into force on March 25, 1754. Specifically, it was one which took place in London's Fleet Prison or its envi ...
s'. Life in these prisons, however, was far from pleasant, and the inmates were forced to pay for their keep. Samuel Byrom, son of the writer and poet
John Byrom John Byrom or John Byrom of Kersal or John Byrom of Manchester FRS FRS may also refer to: Government and politics * Facility Registry System, a centrally managed Environmental Protection Agency database that identifies places of environment ...

John Byrom
, was imprisoned for debt in the Fleet in 1725, and in 1729 he sent a petition to his old school friend, the
Duke of Dorset Duke of Dorset was a title in the Peerage of Great Britain. It was created in 1720 for the politician Lionel Sackville, 1st Duke of Dorset, Lionel Sackville, 7th Earl of Dorset. History The Sackville family descended from Richard Sackville (esche ...
, in which he raged against the injustices of the system. Some debtor prisoners were even less fortunate, being sent to prisons with a mixture of vicious criminals and petty criminals, and many more were confined to a single cell. The father of the
English English usually refers to: * English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language first spoken in History of Anglo-Saxon England, early medieval England, which has eventually become the World language, leading lan ...

English
author
Charles Dickens Charles John Huffam Dickens (; 7 February 1812 – 9 June 1870) was an English writer and social critic. He created some of the world's best-known fictional characters and is regarded by many as the greatest novelist of the Victorian e ...

Charles Dickens
was sent to one of these prisons (the
Marshalsea The Marshalsea (1373–1842) was a notorious prison in Southwark, just south of the River Thames. Although it housed a variety of prisoners, including men accused of crimes at sea and political figures charged with sedition, it became known, in ...

Marshalsea
), which were often described in Dickens's novels. He became an advocate for debt prison reform, and his novel ''
Little Dorrit ''Little Dorrit'' is a novel A novel is a relatively long work of narrative fiction, typically written in prose and published as a book. The present English word for a long work of prose fiction derives from the for "new", "news", or "sho ...
'' dealt directly with this issue. The Debtors' Act of 1869 limited the ability of the courts to sentence debtors to prison, but it did not entirely prohibit them from doing so. Debtors who had the means to pay their debt, but did not do so, could still be incarcerated for up to six weeks, as could those who defaulted on debts to the court. Initially, there was a significant reduction in the number of debtors imprisoned following the passage of the 1869 Act. By 1870, the total number of debtors imprisoned decreased by almost 2,000, dropping from 9,759 in 1869 to 6,605 in 1870. However, by 1905 that number had increased to 11,427. Some of London's debtors' prisons were the
Coldbath Fields Prison Coldbath Fields Prison, also formerly known as the Middlesex House of Correction and Clerkenwell Gaol and thieves' cant, informally known as the Steel, was a prison in the Mount Pleasant area of Clerkenwell, London. Founded in the reign of James I ...
,
Fleet Prison#REDIRECT Fleet Prison Fleet Prison was a notorious London prison by the side of the River Fleet. The prison was built in 1197, was rebuilt several times, and was in use until 1844. It was demolished in 1846. History The prison was built in ...
,
Giltspur Street Compter The Giltspur Street Compter was a compter or small prison, designed by English architect and surveyor George Dance the Younger, mainly used to hold debtors. It was situated in Giltspur Street, Smithfield, London, Smithfield, close to Newgate, in th ...
,
King's Bench Prison The King's Bench Prison was a prison in Southwark, south London, England, from medieval times until it closed in 1880. It took its name from the King's Bench court of law in which cases of defamation, bankruptcy and other misdemeanours were hear ...
,
Marshalsea Prison The Marshalsea (1373–1842) was a notorious prison in Southwark, just south of the River Thames. Although it housed a variety of prisoners, including men accused of crimes at sea and political figures charged with sedition Sedition is overt ...
,
Poultry Compter Poultry Compter (also known as Poultry Counter) was a small prison that stood at Poultry Poultry () are domesticated bird Birds are a group of warm-blooded vertebrates constituting the class (biology), class Aves , characterised by ...
, and Wood Street Counter. The most famous was , which had a debtor's entrance in Stoney Street. This prison gave rise to the British slang term for being incarcerated in any prison, hence "in the clink". Its location also gave rise to the term for being financially embarrassed, "stoney broke".


Scotland

Imprisonment for the non-payment of debt was competent at Scots common law, but the effect of imprisonment for such stood in marked contrast to the position in England even after the execution of the Treaty of Union in 1707. As Viscount Dunedin observed in 1919, it was 'in direct contradistinction to the view of the law in England, that imprisonment was in no sense a satisfaction of the debt'; the purpose for imprisonment for debt was not to discharge the obligation to pay, but rather to act as a compulsitor to force the debtor into revealing any hidden assets. The Scots law allowing the imprisonment of debtors was grounded in large part by an Act of Sederunt of 23 November 1613, which introduced the process of 'horning' whereby the creditor would demand the payment of the debt by a certain date. If the debtor did not satisfy the payment of the debt within this stipulated time-period, the creditor could have the debtor 'put to the horn' by a messenger-at-arms. The execution of horning would have to be registered in the General Register of Hornings in Edinburgh. On registration, a warrant for the arrest of the debtor could then be issued. The formal process of 'horning' was not formally abolished until the passing of s.89 of the Debtors (Scotland) Act 1987 (c 18), though in practice imprisonment for the non-payment of debts had ceased to be relevant in Scotland since the passing of s.4 of the Debtors (Scotland) Act 1880 (c 34). Imprisonment remains competent in cases in which a court order, or order ''ad factum praestandum'' is breached by a debtor. While imprisonment for debt was competent in Scots law, it was provided that debtors who were within the bounds of Holyrood Park (the whole of which was deemed a sanctuary) were exempt, and accordingly, till the abolition of imprisonment for debt, many debtors lived in lodgings within the bounds of the park. Such persons were subject to the Bailie of the Park, who had power, in certain cases, to imprison them himself, in the Abbey Jail.


Greece

Ιmprisonment for debts, whether to the tax office or to a private bank, was still practiced until January 2008, when the law changed after imprisonment for unpaid taxes, as well as other debts to the government or to the social security office, was declared unconstitutional after having been practiced for 173 years; imprisonment was, however, still retained for debts to private banks. The situation regarding imprisonment (προσωποκράτηση (prosōpokrátēsē): custody) for debts to the government is still unclear, as courts continue to have this ability for criminal acts.


India

The
Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 is an act in India India, officially the Republic of India (Hindi: ), is a country in South Asia. It is the List of countries and dependencies by area, seventh-largest country by area, the List of countrie ...
, as amended, contains provisions for criminal penalties, including imprisonment, if someone defaults on a debt or a payment obligation. Section 28A of the Securities and Exchange Board of India Act, 1992 (As amended by the Securities Laws(Amendment) Act, 2014) contains provisions for penalties, including imprisonment, for failure to pay back investors or the authorities. In India, courts have been known to jail financial defaulters as a way to coerce them to pay back their victims or the government. For example, in the case of
Subrata Roy Subrata Roy (born 10 June 1948) is an Indian businessman who founded Sahara India Pariwar in 1978. Sahara India Pariwar has operated a vast number of businesses such as Aamby Valley City, Sahara Movie Studios, Air Sahara, Uttar Pradesh W ...

Subrata Roy
, his bail was conditional on him paying back huge amounts to the investors or the regulators.


Malta

An eighteenth century debtors' prison is found within the
CastellaniaCastellania may refer to: * Castellania, Piedmont, a commune in Alessandria, Italy * Castellania (Valletta), the former law courts in Valletta, Malta * Terra Alta (comarca) or Castellania, a comarca in Catalonia, Spain * Inquisitor's Palace or Castel ...
in
Valletta Valletta (, mt, il-Belt Valletta, ) is the capital city A capital or capital city is the holding primary status in a , , , , or other , usually as its seat of the government. A capital is typically a that physically encompasses the gover ...

Valletta
, Malta, now used as offices by the Ministry for Health. It remained in use as a prison until the nineteenth century. In line with the European Convention Act, no person is to be deprived of his liberty because of the incapability to fulfill a contractual obligation.


United Arab Emirates

Debtors in the
United Arab Emirates The United Arab Emirates (UAE; ar, الإمارات العربية المتحدة ) or the Emirates ( ar, الإمارات ), is a country in Western Asia Western Asia, West Asia, or Southwest Asia, is the westernmost subregion A subregio ...

United Arab Emirates
, including
Dubai Dubai ( ; ar, دبي, translit=Dubayy , ) is the most populous city in the United Arab Emirates The United Arab Emirates (UAE; ar, الإمارات العربية المتحدة ) or the Emirates ( ar, الإمارات ), is a country i ...

Dubai
, are imprisoned for failing to pay their debts. This is a common practice in the country. Banks are not sympathetic to the debtors once they are in prison, so many just choose to leave the country where they can negotiate for settlements later. The practice of fleeing UAE to avoid arrest because of debt defaults is considered a viable option to customers who are unable to meet their obligations.


United States


Early debtors' prisons (colonization–1850)

Many Colonial American jurisdictions established debtors' prisons using the same models used in Great Britain.
James Wilson James Wilson may refer to: Politicians and government officials Canada * James Wilson (Upper Canada politician) (1770–1847), English-born farmer and political figure in Upper Canada * James Crocket Wilson (1841–1899), Canadian MP from Queb ...
, a signatory to the
Declaration of Independence#REDIRECT Declaration of independence {{Redirect category shell, {{R from other capitalisation ...

Declaration of Independence
, spent some time in a debtors' prison while still serving as an
Associate Justice Associate justice or associate judge is the title for a member of a judicial panel who is not the chief justice The chief justice is the presiding member of a supreme court A supreme court is the highest court A court is any person or i ...
of the U.S. Supreme Court. Fellow signatory
Robert MorrisRobert or Bob Morris may refer to: Politics * Robert Hunter Morris (1700–1764), Lieutenant Governor of Colonial Pennsylvania * Robert Morris (financier) (1734–1806), financier of the American Revolution and signatory to three of the United Stat ...
spent three years, from 1798 to 1801, in the Prune Street Debtors' Prison,
Philadelphia Philadelphia (colloquially known simply as Philly) is the largest city in the Commonwealth A commonwealth is a traditional English term for a political community founded for the common good In philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is ...

Philadelphia
Henry Lee III, better known as Henry "Light-Horse" Lee, a
Revolutionary WarRevolutionary War(s) may refer to: * American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), the armed conflict between Great Britain and 13 of its North American colonies, which had declared themselves the independent United States of America * French Revolution ...
general and father of Robert E. Lee, was imprisoned for debt between 1808 and 1809 where he made use of his time by writing "Memoirs of the War". Debtors' prisons were prevalent throughout the
United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country Continental United States, primarily located in North America. It consists of 50 U.S. state, states, a Washington, D.C., ...

United States
up until the mid-1800s. Economic hardships following the
War of 1812 The War of 1812 (18 June 1812 – 17 February 1815) was a conflict fought by the United States of America The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country in . It ...
with
Great Britain Great Britain is an island An island (or isle) is an isolated piece of habitat that is surrounded by a dramatically different habitat, such as water. Very small islands such as emergent land features on atoll An atoll (), ...

Great Britain
helped swell prison populations with simple debtors. This resulted in significant attention being given to plights of the poor and most dependent jailed under the widespread practice, possibly for the first time. Increasing disfavor over debtors' prisons along with the advent and early development of U.S. bankruptcy laws led states to begin restricting imprisonment for most civil debts. At that time growing use of the
poorhouse A poorhouse or workhouse is a government-run (usually by a county A county is a geographical region of a country used for administrative or other purposesChambers Dictionary The ''Chambers Dictionary'' (''TCD'') was first published by Wi ...
and poor farm were also seen as institutional alternatives for debtors' prisons. The United States ostensibly eliminated the imprisonment of debtors under federal law in 1833 leaving the practice of debtors' prisons to states. :''Changes to state debtors' prisons'' ::
Kentucky Kentucky ( , ), officially the Commonwealth of Kentucky, is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ...
1821 – save where fraud was shown or suspected ::
Ohio Ohio () is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ''The State'' (newspaper), a daily newspaper in Co ...

Ohio
1828 ::
Maryland Maryland ( ) is a U.S. state, state in the Mid-Atlantic (United States), Mid-Atlantic region of the United States, bordering Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia to its south and west; Pennsylvania to its north; and Delaware ...

Maryland
1830 – for debts under $30 ::
New Jersey New Jersey is a U.S. state, state in the Mid-Atlantic States, Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern United States, Northeastern regions of the United States. It is bordered on the north and east by the state of New York (state), New York; on the ea ...
1830 ::
Vermont Vermont () is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ''The State'' (newspaper), a daily newspaper in ...

Vermont
1830 ::
Massachusetts Massachusetts (, ), officially the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, is the most populous state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * ...

Massachusetts
1831 – exempted women for any amount and men with debts under $10 ::
New York New York most commonly refers to: * New York City, the most populous city in the United States, located in the state of New York * New York (state), a state in the northeastern United States New York may also refer to: Film and television * New ...
1832,
Connecticut Connecticut () is the southernmost state in the New England region of the United States. As of the 2010 United States census, 2010 Census, it has the highest per-capita income, second-highest level of List of U.S. states and territories by H ...
1837,
Louisiana Louisiana (Standard French Standard French (in French: ''le français standard'', ''le français normé'', ''le français neutre'' eutral Frenchor ''le français international'' nternational French is an unofficial term for a standard ...

Louisiana
1840,
Missouri Missouri is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ''The State'' (newspaper), a daily newspaper in ...

Missouri
1845,
Alabama (We dare defend our rights) , anthem = "Alabama (We dare defend our rights) , anthem = "Alabama (state song), Alabama" , image_map = Alabama in United States.svg , seat ...

Alabama
1848,
Virginia Virginia (), officially the Commonwealth of Virginia, is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), '' ...

Virginia
1849


= Historic preservation

= * Accomac, Virginia – constructed 1782–1783, converted to a "gaol ailfor debtors" in 1824, closed 1849 * Tappahannock, Virginia – constructed prior to 1769, converted to other uses 1849 * Worsham, Virginia – authorized 1786, constructed as a "gaol ailfor debtors" 1787, closed sometime between 1820 and 1849


Modern debtors' prisons (1970–current)

While the United States no longer has brick and mortar debtors' prisons, or "gaols for debtors" of private debts, the term "debtor's prison" in modern times sometimes refers to the practice of imprisoning indigent criminal defendants for matters related to either a fine or a fee imposed in criminal judgments. To what extent a debtor will actually be prosecuted varies from state to state. This modern use of the term debtors' prison arguably has its start with precedent rulings in 1970, 1971 and 1983 by the U.S. Supreme Court, and passage of the
Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1978 The Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1978 (, , November 6, 1978) is a United States The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US), or America, is a country Contiguous United States, primarily located in North A ...
. In 1970, the Court ruled in '' Williams v. Illinois'' that extending a maximum prison term because a person is too poor to pay fines or court costs violates the right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. During 1971 in '' Tate v. Short'', the Court found it unconstitutional to impose a fine as a sentence and then automatically convert it into "a jail term solely because the defendant is indigent and cannot forthwith pay the fine in full." And in the 1983 ruling for '' Bearden v. Georgia,'' the Court ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment bars courts from revoking probation for a failure to pay a fine without first inquiring into a person's ability to pay and considering whether there are adequate alternatives to imprisonment. A year-long study released in 2010 of fifteen states with the highest prison populations by the
Brennan Center for Justice The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law is a bipartisan law and public policy institute generally seen as Liberalism in the United States, liberal or Progressivism in the United States, progressive. The Brennan Center's ...
, found that all fifteen states sampled have jurisdictions that arrest people for failing to pay debt or appear at debt-related hearings. The study identified four causes that lead to debtors' prison type arrests for debts: * State laws that attempt to make criminal justice debt a condition of probation, parole, or other correctional supervision with failure to pay resulting in arrest and reimprisonment. * State laws that consider imprisonment as a penalty for failure to pay criminal justice debt. These actions are considered a civil contempt of court charge, thus technically not in violation of state constitutions that prohibit debtors' prisons, but for the same reason those incarcerated must be released immediately if they either pay or prove themselves unable to do so. * Citizens choosing jail time under state programs where imprisonment is a way of paying down court imposed debt. * States that regularly arrest citizens for criminal justice debt prior to appearing at debt-related hearings, leading in many cases to multi-day jail terms pending an ability to pay hearing. * The routine jailing of persons who owe civil debt when such debts are related to child support arrears. Imprisonment for such debt is legally justified by the legal fiction that the incarceration is not for the debt, but rather for not obeying a court order to pay the debt. In an article in ''
The American Conservative ''The American Conservative'' (''TAC'') is a magazine published by the American Ideas Institute which was founded in 2002. Originally published twice a month, it was reduced to monthly publication in August 2009, and since February 2013, it has ...
'', Michael Shindler argues that another factor responsible for debtors' prison type arrests is that "Whereas indigent defendants have a Sixth Amendment right to a court-appointed lawyer in criminal cases involving incarceration, indigent debtors in state and local courts have no one to defend them against the error and abuse that characterizes debt collection litigation." Similarly, Shindler writes, regarding explicitly illegal debtors' prison type arrests ordered by local judges,"the reason these officials engage in this sort of excessive behavior is often due to ignorance." In
2019 report
by the
Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, or simply the Lawyers' Committee, is a civil rights Civil and political rights are a class of rights Rights are legal Law is a system of rules created and law enforcement, enforced ...
argues that debtors' prisons are likely to appear in states like Arkansas where many people live in poverty and are unable to pay fines and fees, where poor record-keeping exacerbates challenges faced by defendants and where arrest warrants and drivers license suspensions make it even harder for people to pay off court-imposed debt.


Modern examples

In 2014,
National Public Radio National Public Radio (NPR) is an American privately and publicly funded non-profit media organization headquartered in Washington, D.C. ) , image_skyline = , image_caption = Clockwise from top left: the Washin ...
(NPR) posted a report stating that there were still cases of judges imprisoning people who have not paid court fees. The
American Civil Liberties Union The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is a nonprofit organization A nonprofit organization (NPO), also known as a non-business entity, not-for-profit organization, or nonprofit institution, is a legal entity organized and operated for ...
has been challenging such policies since 2009. In September, 2015, in the town of
Bowdon, Georgia Bowdon is a city in Carroll County, Georgia, Carroll County, Georgia (U.S. state), Georgia, United States. As of the 2010 United States Census, 2010 census, the city had a population of 2,040. History The community was incorporated on January 1, 1 ...
, a sitting municipal judge, Richard A. Diment, was surreptitiously recorded threatening defendants with jail time for traffic violations if they did not provide immediate payment. The incidents caused the Bowdon Municipal Court to be closed for a month in order to implement changes in policy.


= Modern U.S. by state

=


International agreements

In 1963 Article 1 of the Protocol No. 4 to the
Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) (formally the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms) is an international convention to protect human rights and political freedoms in Europe. Drafted in 1950 by t ...
"No one shall be deprived of his liberty merely on the ground of inability to fulfil a contractual obligation." In 1976 Article 11 of the ICCPR –
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) is a multilateral treaty A treaty is a formal, legally binding written agreement between actors in international law International law, also known as public international ...
– came into effect stating, "No one shall be imprisoned merely on the ground of inability to fulfill a contractual obligation." This international treaties contradicts many domestic laws of ratified states which allows for civil jail.


See also

*
Alimony Alimony (also called aliment Aliment, in Scots law and in other civil systems, is the sum of money paid, or allowance given in respect of the reciprocal Obligation (law), obligation of parents and children, husband and wife, grandparents and g ...

Alimony
*
Bankruptcy Bankruptcy is a legal process through which people or other entities who cannot repay debts to creditor A creditor or lender is a party 300px, '' Hip, Hip, Hurrah!'' (1888) by Peder Severin Krøyer, a painting portraying an artists' par ...

Bankruptcy
*
Child support Child support (or child maintenance) is an ongoing, periodic payment made by a parent for the financial benefit of a child (or parent, caregiver, guardian, or state) following the end of a marriage or other similar relationship. Child maintenance ...
*
Debt bondage Debt bondage, also known as debt slavery, bonded labour, or peonage, is the pledge of a person's services as security for the repayment for a debt or other obligation, where the terms of the repayment are not clearly or reasonably stated, and the ...
* Debtors' Prison Dublin *
Medical debt Medical debt refers to debt incurred by individuals due to health care costs A health system, also sometimes referred to as health care system or as healthcare system, is the organization An organization, or organisation ( Commonwealth En ...
*
Poor law In English English usually refers to: * English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language first spoken in History of Anglo-Saxon England, early medieval England, which has eventually become the World lang ...
*
Poorhouse A poorhouse or workhouse is a government-run (usually by a county A county is a geographical region of a country used for administrative or other purposesChambers Dictionary The ''Chambers Dictionary'' (''TCD'') was first published by Wi ...
*
Province of Georgia The Province of Georgia (also Georgia Colony) was one of the Southern colonies The Southern Colonies within British America British America comprised the colonial territories of the British Empire in America from 1607 to 1783. These c ...
in the colonial United States, originally intended to be settled by debtors *
Shays' Rebellion Shays Rebellion was an armed uprising in Western Massachusetts Western Massachusetts is a region in Massachusetts Massachusetts (, ), officially the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, is the most populous state State may refer to: Arts ...

Shays' Rebellion
*
Sponging-house A sponging-house was a place of temporary confinement for debtors in the United Kingdom. If a borrower defaulted on repaying a debt, their creditor would lay a complaint with the sheriff. The sheriff sent his bailiffs, or tipstaffs to arrest the d ...
*
Tax evasion Tax evasion is an illegal attempt to defeat the imposition of taxes A tax is a compulsory financial charge or some other type of levy imposed on a taxpayer (an individual or legal entity In law Law is a system A system is a g ...


References


Literature

* Karl Gratzer: ''Default and Imprisonment for Debt in Sweden'', in: Karl Gratzer, Dieter Stiefel (Eds.):
History of Insolvency and Bankruptcy from an International Perspective
', Huddinge 2008, S. 16ff. {{Authority control Legal history Personal financial problems