Yesterday on alternativeeconomics we mentioned a story of how US Corporations are exploiting prisoners as a source of cheap labour. A story appeared today on the Daily Mail of debtor’s prisons coming back in the US through the back door. More and more people are being through in prison for not paying debt even though debtor prisons were illegal for over 150 years.

A breast cancer survivor who was sent to prison over a mistaken $280 medical bill has highlighted the return of debtor’s prisons in the U.S.

Illinois resident Lisa Lindsay had received the medical bill in error and was told she did not have to pay up.

However, the bill was turned over to a collection agency and state troopers arrived at her home and took her away in handcuffs.

….

Debt collectors have become so aggressive claim some that poor people who are behind on payments of as little as $25 a month are being sent to jail.

Even though debtor’s prisons have been illegal since 1833, lenders are being accused of exploiting legal loopholes to have their borrowers found and sent to jail until they pay up.

So how do they get around the loophole and get debtors locked up?

Acting within the law, debtors aren’t arrested  for nonpayment, rather for failing to arrive to court hearings thereby falling foul of contempt of court laws.

This results in a police arrest warrant being issued for ‘failure to appear’, the debtor is tracked down, packed off to jail and can only get out by paying the set bail bond which of course matches the amount owed.

Affecting everyone who owes money from health care services to automobile loans, debt collectors are using publicly funded courts, sheriff deputies and county jails to pressure people with prison to pay back their money reports CBS News.
The fightback begins

And now some state legislators are trying to plug this loophole by making court notices be served in person rather than mail, arrest warrants to expire after a year and the bail bond returned to the debtor not the lender.

Following a spate of hard-working people being forced to spend time in prison, state legislators across the U.S are examining ways to change the law. In fact in Illinois alone, legislation designed to plug loopholes aimed at debtors is waiting to pass through the state senate.

‘Creditors have been manipulating the court system to extract money from the unemployed, veterans, even seniors who rely solely on their benefits to get by each month,’ said Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan last month in a statement voicing support for the legislation.

‘Too many people have been thrown in jail simply because they’re too poor to pay their debts. We cannot allow these illegal abuses to continue.’

A 2010 report by the American Civil Liberties Union that examined five states – Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Washington — discovered that people were being imprisoned at ‘increasingly alarming rates’ through legal debts.

Government and State use threat of prison against people.
‘In this era of shrinking budgets, state and local governments have turned aggressively to using the threat and reality of imprisonment to squeeze revenue out of the poorest defendants who appear in their courts.’
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