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?

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