“Their bail is exactly the amount of money owed…”

In jail for being in debt? The article says people are, at least de facto, being jailed for debt. Last year someone told me this had happened to them. The circumstances called for sympathy, but I was privately skeptical, thinking that didn’t happen in America. I assumed there was more to the story that the person wasn’t telling. Maybe I was being told the simple truth. Maybe we all assume unconsciously that life is pretty much the same for all of us. Living at a higher social stratum, it’s easy to be ignorant of how things work for others.

“Many debtors…get a second surprise after being arrested — their bail is exactly the amount of money owed. … If friends or family post a debtor’s bail, they can expect to kiss the money goodbye, because it often ends up with creditors, who routinely ask judges for the bail payment.”

How convenient.

UPDATE 3 July 2010: More discussion at Jailed for Debt

UPDATE 23 November 2011: Jailing debtors for not paying their debts is apparently especially popular in Illinois.

Advertisements

4 Replies to ““Their bail is exactly the amount of money owed…””

  1. I’m pretty sure missing a court hearing IS illegal. For the ones about missing “court ordered payments”– if the payment is a condition of the release, then failure will…well…send you back to jail.

    Flatly running out on debt is basically theft.

    Rather leary of the “she wasn’t told why she was arrested” thing– either someone screwed up, or she was too upset to notice. (well, of the good options, anyways)

    This process happens several times a week in Hennepin County. Those who fail to appear can be held in contempt and an arrest warrant is issued if a collector seeks one. Arrested debtors aren’t officially charged with a crime, but their cases are heard in the same courtroom as drug users.

    K, THIS sounds like someone trying to drum up a story.

    Oh, no! Not the same room as drug users! That icky aura of drug-user-ness might hit the honest deadbeats!

    Nearly all of them had received court judgments for not paying a delinquent debt. One by one, they stepped forward to fill out a two-page financial disclosure form that gives creditors the information they need to garnish money from their paychecks or bank accounts.

    Debtor’s prisons don’t make sense, but those aren’t what the offered data actually supports– that’s just what the reporter keeps implying.

    Full disclosure, I’ve lost a good bit to those who think that just because they didn’t pay back a loan from a while ago, suddenly they don’t owe it anymore. My folks have also been hurt by it– that was back when I was in Jr. High, and someone decided that they didn’t really need it because they happened to own a little property.

    1. Certainly people should pay their debts, and if they don’t the court should seize their assets and distribute them to the creditors. If they won’t come to court, the sheriff goes and gets them.

      But to me this sounds like entrepreneurial lawyers have found a way to get the state to subsidize their business plan. They use jail to harass and extract payment. If someone pays the bail, it’s given to the lawyers to satisfy the discounted debt they bought. I wonder they don’t bundle and securitize the debtors and sell interest-only strips to the teachers’ pension fund.

      Sure it’s all legal, but if the result is people go to jail and stay until they pay what they owe, it’s not right. And no doubt it is all avoidable, for the reasonably intelligent: Read and heed the summons, get a lawyer, dip into the 401(k) if necessary, or consider structured bankruptcy if worse comes to worst. But I suspect the people who are spending time in jail are like the person who told me their story – not the sharpest knife in the drawer, poor reading skills, no network of friends and family to explain things to them. They’re easy prey for legal loan sharks, and can’t work the system to defend themselves. All they know is police came and locked them up, and a judge said they had to come up with $250 to get out.

      Or, maybe I’m just falling for a sob story. Some, inevitably, are crooks and con men who owe too little to be successful real estate developers.

      1. Sure it’s all legal, but if the result is people go to jail and stay until they pay what they owe, it’s not right.

        From the article, that’s not what happened. There was ONE case of that mentioned, but no background– which, given the tone of the article, makes me suspect it was a “refuses to pay” rather than a “cannot pay.”

        Just another reason I prefer blogs– a blogger that did this story would have to link to sources for all their stories, and we’d know, instead of this dang tea-leaf reading stuff.

        But I suspect the people who are spending time in jail are like the person who told me their story – not the sharpest knife in the drawer, poor reading skills, no network of friends and family to explain things to them.

        I know a guy who is a registered sex offender for this reason. (Long story short: false accusations from a 14 year old girl against any male her mom had been around, he’s a moron that listened to his CA lawyer and signed an I’m-guilty paper to get out and go back to his job… and when she publicly recanted, the others she’d randomly accused who hadn’t done a deal got off. Story rebuilt from what he said and going back for the records.)
        Doesn’t mean that sex offender laws are inherently bad, means that the application needs to be refined.

        All they know is police came and locked them up, and a judge said they had to come up with $250 to get out.

        Thing is, if they really aren’t very bright, this could be totally accurate– and still not a bad thing. They just left out that they made agreement X, or ignored summons Y, or who knows what detail. Folks do tend to mend their memories to something that makes sense and that they can live with.

    2. “Doesn’t mean that sex offender laws are inherently bad, means that the application needs to be refined.” Right, same here, and it reinforces the need for good judges. I’d probably discount this story if it didn’t mesh with the one I was told last year (sorry I can’t be more specific about that). Anyway, not much to do but try to educate people, watch out for abuses, and write the newspaper or state representative if we see any.

Comments are closed.