A 19th century tool for instilling fear in the public to pay off debt.
“‘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.’
“Tricia Metcalf is a mother with sole custody of two teenagers. In 2006, Metcalf ‘was convicted of passing multiple bad checks. The fines mounted into the thousands. Unable to pay the total amount owed, Tricia entered into a payment plan of $50 per month.’ Although she’s worked temporary jobs, a long-term job has been hard to find. ‘Whenever Tricia missed a payment, a warrant was issued and she was taken to jail.’
“The stories of Jack Dawley and Tricia Metcalf are only two of several compelling accounts in the ACLU’s new report, The Outskirts of Hope: How Ohio’s Debtors’ Prisons Are Ruining Lives and Costing Communities.
“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.’”