Jailing Debtors

Should people be jailed for unpaid fines?


The United States outlawed the practice of imprisoning people for failure or inability to pay their debts more than two centuries ago, and several Supreme Court rulings have supported that prohibition. Yet local courts are jailing people for debts stemming from minor infractions such as unpaid parking tickets without regard to their ability to pay. Moreover, to cover rising administrative expenses, many courts are making defendants pay for public defenders, probation supervisors and jail cells — costs that traditionally have been a state responsibility — and people unable to pay are locked up. Local officials say defendants who use the criminal justice system should shoulder its costs. But the Department of Justice is urging the adoption of a more equitable punishment system, and civil rights ...

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