Return of Debtors' Prisons: Breast Cancer Survivor Jailed for $280

| by Michael Allen

In Herrin, Illinois, Lisa Lindsay recently went to jail because she got a $280 medical bill by mistake and was told she didn't have to pay it.

The Associated Press reports that the bill was turned over to a collection agency, police later showed up at her home and took her to jail. Illinois is now considering a bill banning this modern day practice of debtors' prisons.

Even though the U.S. banned debtors' prisons in the 1830s, more than a third of U.S. states allow the police to arrest people in who don't pay debts, from health care services to credit card and auto loans; all at the behest of corporate America.

Under some state laws, debtors are arrested, not for the actual debt, but failing to respond to court hearings and pay legal bills that they may not even owe.

A 2010 report by the American Civil Liberties Union that focused on five states (Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Washington) found that people were being jailed at "increasingly alarming rates" over legal debts.

ACLU told the Associated Press: "The sad truth is that debtors' prisons are flourishing today, more than two decades after the Supreme Court prohibited imprisoning those who are too poor to pay their legal debts. In this era of shrinking budgets, state and local governments have turned aggressively to using the threat and reality of imprisonment to squeeze revenue out of the poorest defendants who appear in their courts."