Some Americans Are Being Thrown Into Jail For Unpaid Debts

How this tactic has evolved over time, what recourse impacted people have, and the importance of knowing your rights even in the midst of dire financial straits.

Interview (Maryland)

Judith Ohikuare
March 15, 2018

Tags: Court Debt, Debtors Prison

Organizations mentioned/involved: Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS)


Hauling people off to jail for falling behind on their financial obligations sounds like an old Dickensian practice, but some legal experts around the country have argued that the matter is hardly resolved. A recent report from the ACLU found that thousands of debtors, mostly in Black and Latino communities, “are arrested and jailed each year because they owe money” and millions more are threatened with incarceration. “The debts owed can be as small as a few dollars, and they can involve every kind of consumer debt, from car payments to utility bills to student loans to medical fees,” the organization said.