image The Des Moines Register reprinted an article in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune about people who were arrested because of outstanding debt.

Chris Serres and Glenn Howatt of the Star-Tribune reported:

It’s not a crime to owe money, and debtors’ prisons were abolished in the United States in the 19th century. But people are routinely being thrown in jail for failing to pay debts. In Minnesota, which has some of the most creditor-friendly laws in the country, the use of arrest warrants against debtors has jumped 60 percent over the past four years, with 845 cases in 2009, a Star Tribune analysis of state court data has found.

Not every warrant results in an arrest, but in Minnesota many debtors spend up to 48 hours in cells with criminals. Consumer attorneys say such arrests are increasing in many states, including Arkansas, Arizona and Washington, driven by a bad economy, high consumer debt and a growing industry that buys bad debts and employs every means available to collect.

Whether a debtor is locked up depends largely on where the person lives, because enforcement is inconsistent from state to state, and even county to county.

In one case a person was jailed for owning $85.  They cite those arrested in Minnesota that bail has been set for the amount owed.  They also told about a man in Kenney, IL who was incarcerated indefinitely until he came up with $300 toward a lumber yard bill he had.

How is he supposed to do that from jail?  In the United States this is unconscionable, this is not just.  Debt repayment is something that should be dealt with in civil court, not criminal.  It is a misuse of our criminal justice system and of our law enforcement personnel.  If owing a debt is not illegal on what basis can a arrest warrant be issued.  If it is a violation of a court order or a court order I could possibly see that, but in several cases mentioned in this article this was not the case.  Not to mention the inconsistency of the practice.

I’m not defending people who blatantly run up their debts with the intention of not paying them.  However there are many people due to life circumstances, unemployment or underemployment who just have a hard time paying their bills.

They shouldn’t have to worry about being jailed.  In many cases that just makes their situation worse.

What say you?

6 comments
  1. Given the lack of information, I think the guy is trying to gin up a story– being sent to jail because you blew off a court appearances is NOT being jailed because you’re in debt, nor is failing to make court-ordered payments.

    Rather than retyping everything I already objected to about this story…. here’s another post where we argued the topic.

    Basically? With the way that so much information is left out makes this stink to high heaven– like the name of the man from Kenney, Illinois. (When I try to find any mention of this, I can’t find any that doesn’t source to the Star Tribune article, and I found that Kenney Illinois has 350 residents.)

    The county seat is nearby Clinton.
    I couldn’t find any mention of the story in the local paper:
    http://clintonherald.com
    although I used the built in search, rather than paging around in January.

    Sort of like those news stories on how horrible it is that a guy gets charged with kidnapping his own children… then you find out that he dumped the mom before they were ever born, had no legal claim, has been a deadbeat and is running from the cops for the last ten years or some such.

  2. When I first read your rendition I was perplexed, but it is – as it usually is – more to every story. Most arrests for debt are on basis of not showing up for court, outstanding warrants, or a little tinkering with white-collar crime.

    In all, most people don’t divulge everything they should. The media does the same; often skewing the truth from reality, thus creating misconceptions and giving our criminal justice system a bad wrap. Yes, there are times where the criminal justice system is less than stellar, but for the most part, it is evolving with betterment in mind.

  3. Rather than simply express outrage over this practice, I’d like to simply ask a few, I hope insightful, questions.

    Where are the constitutional challenges of being jailed without due process at the state and supreme court levels? If I read this article right, many of the people being arrested are being arrested without being given fair and prior notice of an action against them. How can one be jailed for failure to appear when they weren’t notified that they were supposed to do so? This issue really does raise some SERIOUS constitutional questions, most notably the issue of being safe from wrongful and malicious prosecution.

    Which leads me to my next question:

    By all accounts, the people initiating these actions are firms who are buying debts from other places, and hence, these are not debts that the debtor and current collector have ever agreed to, per se. How can a company who WILLINGLY buys bad debt-CHARGED OFF debt from another party who HAS ALREADY CHARGED IT OFF AS BAD AND WRITTEN IT OFF THEIR TAXES
    possibly make the claim that they are an aggrieved party? They willingly bought a bad debt, of their own free will, without prior notice, agreement, or permission on the part of the debtor. No one forced them to take on this debt, nor did a debtor AGREE to give them the right to continue accumulating interest on that debt. If the original creditor, you know, the folks who gave you the money to begin with, saw fit to charge off this debt as bad, write it off of their TAXES as a bad debt, AND blast a person’s credit history for the next 7 years, then that should be the end of it. The company writing this debt off and claiming the loss on their taxes already benefited from that claimed loss. To then SELL the debt to another company, is nothing short of trying to benefit on the same debt twice. And, let’s call it what it is. The company that buys the debt, while paying pennies on the dollar to acquire it, really has no skin in the game, so to speak. In any event, they try to collect on the full amount of the debt, rather than the amount they paid to buy it. Interest accumulates on the original amount owed, rather than the price they actually bought the debt for. Which leads me to yet another question.

    How can it POSSIBLY be legal, in any sense of the concept of EQUITY OF THE LAW, to make a claim to a court, that results in the eventual LOSS OF LIBERTY, that these companies are entitled to such amounts? If I owe someone 5000.00, I don’t pay, they write it off, take the tax benefit, sell the debt to someone else for say, 350 bucks, how can that company CLAIM I owe THEM 5000.00, AND all the accumlated interest, when they only HAVE the above mentioned 350.00 in the purchase? The whole debt-selling industry is a civil court version of double jeopardy, and in criminal law, this is FORBIDDEN by the Constitution.

    Using the above logic, I should be able to buy a 2500.00 debt from my neighbor for 200.00, for unpaid rent from a home he lets out, then go and try to collect the full 2500.00, plus interest and penalties, from a tenant who no longer lives there. AND I DON’T EVEN OWN THE HOUSE! If the original aggreived party doesn’t see fit to pursue the matter, how the hell can I possibly claim the right to do so? I wasn’t required to get involved in any way, shape, or form, and my argument to being an aggreived party only exists, because I CHOSE to become one of my own free will, and I did so without the knowledge or informed consent of the debtor. Until I stuck my nose where it had no business being, I had no claim to anything the debtor owed, nor did he ever KNOWINGLY enter into a contractual obligation with me, because he was never notified that said debt was being transferred to a completely uninvolved, AND unentitled, 3rd party.

    At the very least, common sense dictates that even if this practice were completely beyond scrutiny, AT NO TIME should they ever be able to collect an amount, or an interest on an amount, greater than what they have invested in the debt. Using the above example, if I buy a debt for 200.00, I should only be allowed to collect that amount, plus legally acrued interest on that amount, and the rate of interest should never be at a rate higher than what the original debt note specified. Because again, common sense, THIS IS ALL I HAVE INVESTED IN THIS DEBT.

    I see this whole string of abuses in the same light as an insurance company who uses your credit history to determine your rates. And, that practice is complete and TOTAL BS. Insurance is a CASH TRANSACTION. I pay you to provide me with coverage, and I pay for that coverage in advance. IF I STOP paying for it, you stop providing it. My credit rating has less than NOTHING to do with my suitability as an insured party.

    Both of these practices need to banned in their entirety, and any person JAILED under this system of abuse should have the right the sue these peoples’ asses off for wrongful prosecution. If that doesn’t work, then I submit that a more physical form of action should occur. These abuses will only continue, until all of you get off your couches and DO something about them!

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