Thousands of Poor Americans are Jailed for Debts (Video)

| by Michael Allen
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Debtors' prisons were abolished in the U.S. in the early 1800s, but they are making a backdoor comeback as thousands of Americans are going to jail for not being able to pay traffic tickets, court fees, credit card bills, car loans, or medical bills (video below).

"It's a growing problem nationally, particularly because of the economic crisis,"  Inimai Chettiar, of New York University School of Law's Brennan Center for Justice, told "It's like drawing blood from a stone. States are trying to increase their revenue on the backs of the poor."

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), about one third of states in the U.S. jail people for not paying off their debts. Alabama, Florida and Ohio are three of the most costly states to be poor in.

Alabama charges a 30 percent collection fee, while Florida allows private debt collectors to add a 40 percent charge on top the original debt.

Some Florida counties use collection courts, where debtors can be jailed and have no right to a public defender. In North Carolina, people are charged for using a public defender in collection courts, so many poor defendants don't have legal counsel.

Debtors' prisons are prohibited by Ohio law, but poor defendants are often jailed for failing to pay court fines, said the ACLU of Ohio in a new report.

"If you don't have resources for an attorney or can't afford other fees associated with court, you get a different brand of justice," said Mike Brickner, of the ACLU of Ohio. "And with the economic downturn over the last 10 years, we've seen an increase and resurgence in debtors' prisons."

Megan Sharp, a mother of three children, was imprisoned in Ohio for 10 days for failing to pay $540 in fines for a conviction for driving with a suspended license. The state actually lost money on her case because the total cost of arresting and jailing Sharp was almost $1,000 (video below).

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