The latest creepy relic from the darkest recesses of the Dickensian past that appears to be making a comeback these days are debtors’ prisons. Debtors’ prisons show up in a number of Dickens’ novels, most notably Little Dorrit, which is one of his masterpieces. George Bernard Shaw claimed it converted him to socialism and called it “a more seditious book than Das Kapital.” Dickens surely knew from debtors’ prisons, since his chronically impecunious father had been in one. And now, as Think Progress reports, this reviled institution is being revived, and poor people in Ohio are being thrown in the clink for being unable to pay off debts — mostly legal fees and court fines. On Friday, Ohio’s ACLU released a report about the state’s debtors’ prisons, and it is a sobering and quietly enraging read.Ugh.
Among the findings of the report:
— Being imprisoned for debt is clearing unconstitutional and was declared so by the U.S. Supreme Court over 20 years ago. It is also against Ohio law.
— People are being jailed for failure to pay fines and court costs, sometimes for amounts as low as a few hundred dollars.
— It’s affecting many people — as many as 20% of the bookings in the Huron County jail in the second half of 2012, for example. In two other counties, in one six-week period in 2012, a total of at least 120 people were jailed.
— Sentence lengths vary. One woman went to jail for ten days for being unable to pay $300 in overdue legal fines. A man who owed $1,500 in court fines and was behind in child support payments was sent to prison for three and half years.
— The law requires that you are entitled to a hearing to determine if you are able to pay court costs. Needless to say, none of these folks got that. Nor did they any of them receive a court-appointed attorney (are you joking?).
— Also? This practice makes no economic sense whatsoever. The court costs, cost of serving a warrant, cost of jailing these folks, etc., generally adds up to far more than the defendant owed in the first place.
Monday, April 08, 2013
America 2013 a tale of two citi....wtf?!