Why are we still sending people to jail for being Poor? It’s time to truly abolish debtors’ prisons

FFJC: Imagine spending a week in jail for being unable to pay a bill. That’s what happened to Roxana Beck. After she pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor of “frequenting a place where controlled substances were used, sold, or manufactured,” an Idaho court imposed a bill of $683.50 in fines and fees. Her lawyer—who had been appointed by the court because Beck couldn’t afford to hire one—asked that the costs be waived or reduced, given Beck’s tough financial circumstances. The judge refused. When Beck failed to make payments, the court issued a warrant for her arrest. She spent seven days in jail waiting to see the judge. Charged with a new crime of “contempt” for not paying, the judge sentenced Beck to time served in jail, again ordered her to pay costs, and reminded her that if she didn’t, she would continue to face new arrests, detentions, and contempt convictions.

People all across the United States are regularly incarcerated because they owe court debt stemming from a conviction, a traffic ticket, or some municipal infraction that they simply cannot afford to pay. Beyond being an unfairly coercive and counterproductive response to the inability to pay, debt collection through incarceration often plays out with serious racial disparities. The U.S. Department of Justice investigation into Ferguson, Missouri, found the local court used arrest warrants almost exclusively “to compel payment through the threat of incarceration” and that 96 percent of those jailed on warrants were Black.

Read the full article here: Why Are We Still Sending People to Jail for Being Poor? It’s Time to Truly Abolish Debtors’ Prisons

Photo by Milad Fakurian on Unsplash

26 April, 2023
Type of Update:
In the News
Updates from our Partners
Courts Systems
Fees and Fines
Petty Offences
United States
North America
Campaign Partners:
Fines & Fees Justice Center

The Campaign to Decriminalise Poverty and Status is a coalition of organisations from across the world that advocate for the repeal of laws that target people based on poverty, status or for their activism.


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