It looks like you're using an Ad Blocker.
Please white-list or disable AboveTopSecret.com in your ad-blocking tool.
Some features of ATS will be disabled while you continue to use an ad-blocker.
In 1833 the United States abolished Federal imprisonment for unpaid debts, and most states outlawed the practice around the same time. Before then, the use of debtors' prisons was widespread; signatories to the Declaration of Independence, James Wilson and Robert Morris were both later incarcerated, as were 2,000 New Yorkers annually by 1816. Henry Lee III, better known as Light-Horse Harry Lee, a Revolutionary War general, former governor of Virginia, and father of Robert E. Lee, was imprisoned for debt between 1808 and 1809. Sometimes, imprisonment would result from less than sixty cents' worth of debt.
Six states (Arkansas, Arizona, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, and Washington) allow debt collectors to seek arrest warrants for debtors in default if all other collection methods have failed. Whether a debtor will actually be prosecuted or not varies from state to state, county to county, and town to town. The individual is taken into custody and is typically required to submit financial documentation to the courts (to facilitate seizure of assets or wage garnishment), although in some cases the individual may be held indefinitely until a payment plan is reached or the debt is paid in full, especially if the individual is insolvent. Other states have outlawed this type of collection action (Tennessee and Oklahoma have ruled it unconstitutional) unless the court finds that the debtor actually possesses the means to pay—except in the case of child support obligations.
More than a third of all states now allow borrowers who don’t pay their bills to be jailed, even when debtor’s prisons have been explicitly banned by state constitutions. A report by the American Civil Liberties Union found that people were imprisoned even when the cost of doing so exceeded the amount of debt they owed.
Sean Matthews, a homeless New Orleans construction worker, was incarcerated for five months for $498 of legal debt, while his jail time cost the city six times that much. Some debtors are even forced to pay for their jail time themselves, adding to their financial troubles.