Get PJ Media on your Apple

PJM Lifestyle

Both Liberals And Conservatives Should Be Able To ‘Just Say No’ To Debtors Prisons

Real life isn't like Monopoly where you keep collecting rent on your properties while in jail.

by
John Hawkins

Bio

May 7, 2013 - 11:00 am

Debtors prison

Very seldom do liberals and conservatives agree on much of anything these days, but there is one area where we should have some common cause. Over at the liberal website Alternet, Bill Berkowitz has written a piece called, “Cruel Country: Debtors Prisons Are Punishing the Poor Across America”:

In the 1990s, Jack [Dawley's] drug and alcohol addictions led to convictions for domestic violence and driving under the influence, resulting in nearly $1,500 in fines and costs in the Norwalk Municipal Court. Jack was also behind on his child support, which led to an out-of-state jail sentence.” After serving three and a half years in Wisconsin, Dawley, now sober for 14 years, is still trying to catch up with the fines he owes, and it has “continue[d] to wreak havoc on his life.”

…The jailing of people unable to pay fines and court costs is no longer a relic of the 19th century American judicial system. Debtors’ prisons are alive and well in one-third of the states in this country.

In 2011, Think Progress’ Marie Diamond wrote: “Federal imprisonment for unpaid debt has been illegal in the U.S. since 1833. It’s a practice people associate more with the age of Dickens than modern-day America. But as more Americans struggle to pay their bills in the wake of the recession, collection agencies are using harsher methods to get their money, ushering in the return of debtor’s prisons.”

…This year’s ACLU report….points out that many poor “Ohioans … convicted of a criminal or traffic offense and sentenced to pay a fine an affluent defendant may simply pay … and go on with his or her life [find the fine] unaffordable [launching] the beginning of a protracted process that may involve contempt charges, mounting fees, arrest warrants, and even jail time. The stark reality is that, in 2013, Ohioans are being repeatedly jailed simply for being too poor to pay fines.”

According to the report, Ohio courts in Huron, Cuyahoga, and Erie counties “are among the worst offenders. In the second half of 2012, over 20% of all bookings in the Huron County Jail were related to failure to pay fines.

…CBS Money Watch’s Alain Sherter recently reported that “Roughly a third of U.S. states today jail people for not paying off their debts, from court-related fines and fees to credit card and car loans, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Such practices contravene a 1983 United States Supreme Court ruling that they violate the Constitutions’ Equal Protection Clause.”

Wreaking havoc on ordinary peoples’ lives

Jack Dawley: “You’d go do your ten days, and they’d set you up a court date and give you another 90 days to pay or go back to jail… It was hard for me to obtain work, so I fell back into the cycle of going to jail every three months.”

Paying money to people you owe can’t just be an “optional” thing. The government must be allowed to force people to pay their debts or our entire system of commerce would break down. That being said, it’s immoral, unconstitutional and even counter-productive to put someone in jail for being truly unable to pay his debts. How are you going to earn enough to pay what you owe if you’re in jail?


Certainly, this isn’t always a clear cut issue. Is a person REALLY unable to pay or is he just irresponsible? Is he pleading poverty when it comes time to pay off his bills and then going out and spending the money on booze and a new iPhone?

Yet, there’s a reason Lady Justice is portrayed as a blindfolded woman holding a pair of scales. We always have to balance interests; putting someone in jail for being genuinely unable to pay a bill tilts the scales too far in one direction. Given what’s going on in Ohio, we need to take a hard look at those scales to make sure that we’re not going back to the bad old days of debtors prisons.

 

John Hawkins is a professional writer who runs Right Wing News and Linkiest. He's also the co-owner of the The Looking Spoon. Additionally, he does weekly appearances on the #1 in its market Jaz McKay show, writes a weekly column for Townhall and PJ Media, does YouTube videos, and his work has also been published at the Washington Examiner, The Hill, and at Human Events. He's also the blogosphere's premier interviewer and has interviewed conservatives like Thomas Sowell, Mark Levin, Victor Davis Hanson, Mark Steyn, G. Gordon Liddy, Dick Morris, Karl Rove, Michael Steele, Milton Friedman, Jonah Goldberg, Jim DeMint, Walter Williams, Robert Novak, Ann Coulter, Newt Gingrich, & Michelle Malkin among others. Moreover, John Hawkins' work has been linked and discussed in numerous publications and on TV and radio shows including ABC News, BusinessWeek, C-Span, The Chicago Tribune, CNN, Countdown with Keith Olbermann, Editor & Publisher, Fox News, Hannity and Colmes, The Laura Ingraham Show, Minneapolis Star Tribune, MSNBC, National Journal, National Post, Newsmax, Newsweek, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Rush Limbaugh Show, The Tammy Bruce Show, Time Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, The Hugh Hewitt Show, The Washington Post, Salt Lake Tribune, Scarborough Country, U.S. News & World Report, and Human Events, where he had a weekly column. Right Wing News has been studied by college classes and even inspired an urban legend that was covered at Snopes. Last but not least, John Hawkins also founded and led the Rightroots group, a grassroots effort that collected almost $300,000 for Republican candidates in the last 3 months of the 2006 election cycle. In 2008, he consulted for Duncan Hunter's presidential campaign and was on the board of Slatecard, which raised more than $600,000 for Republican candidates in the 2008 election cycle. In 2011, he helped found Raising Red, although he left the organization the same year and went on to become one of the co-founders of Not Mitt Romney.com.

Comments are closed.

All Comments   (4)
All Comments   (4)
Sort: Newest Oldest Top Rated
Sentencing people justly fined to a short time in jail in lieu of the fine if they can't pay is both just and merciful. They key point being that the jail sentence is proportionate to the fine and that upon release from jail, the fine is no longer owed. However, no one should be sentenced to jail for a debt that will still be owed upon release.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
what owing the irs? i guess that's jail time for not being patriotic.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Prison pays-for the jailers.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It was once said that the poor are a goldmine. Here again it is true. While the poor might not be able to pay those fines, think about all the police, court officials, and bureaucrats who the taxpayers keep employed to deal with these debtors. Extrapolate that across the whole of government and wonder why no one is serious about cutting the welfare state.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
View All