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The Return of the Debt Prison?

April 7, 2009

The New York Times has a story about Florida debtors being imprisoned for failing to pay court fines.  Change.org’s Poverty in America blog and Adam Levitan at Credit Slips have commentary about this.

The Supreme Court has ruled that people cannot be imprisoned solely for owing someone money, and the Florida constitution bans this practice as well.  The technical reason for imprisoning these debtors is failure to comply with a court order — in this case, the court order being to pay fees for being arrested.  People who fail to pay a domestic support obligation (like child support, I’m assuming) can also be imprisoned based on the same rationale.

The Times reports that thousands of Floridians have spent time in jail for owing money to the Florida courts, and that other states are considering going the same route.

Even given the technical reason for imprisoning these people, is this heading down a slippery slope toward imprisoning other types of debtors, particularly poor ones?

(Photo by Jim Linwood)

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