Talk:Debtors' prison

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they seem like they worked sort of like homeless shelters? Should the page say something about homeless shelters? Minitrue 18:09, 28 December 2006 (UTC)

Fair use rationale for Image:Pyat rublei 1997.jpg[edit]

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BetacommandBot 11:24, 6 July 2007 (UTC)

Wikiproject Prisons[edit]

If anyone's interested, I've proposed a new wikiproject for the creation of articles regarding specific prisons here. --Cdogsimmons (talk) 01:46, 23 June 2008 (UTC)

Death and taxes[edit]

In 1833 the United States reduced the practice of imprisonment for debts at the federal level. Most states followed suit. It is still possible, however, to be incarcerated for debt: debts of fraud, child-support, alimony, or release fines can land a citizen in jail or prison, or prevent one’s release. In the state of Tennessee, the Tennessee State Constitution forbids civil imprisonment for debts.

Can we add tax debt (especially to the US government/IRS) to that list of reasons for imprisonment? We all know that tax evasion or failure to file can make one end up in prison. It's a felony. Midtempo-abg (talk) —Preceding undated comment was added at 20:43, 17 September 2008 (UTC).

also there are many cases of parents being imprisoned for failing to pay child support. Perhaps this should be clarified. Should you need an example here's one (talk) 16:06, 16 July 2009 (UTC)

Failure to cite examples of current debt that can lead to imprisonment, is very misleading and leaves readers with the impression that going to prison for debt has ended. As stated above, debtors being sent to jail is still very common and readers have a right to know that certain debts can still lead to imprisonment. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 17:04, 17 December 2010 (UTC)

When a legal US resident is jailed for a debt in the USA, the legal charge in court is not for the debt itself. Usually it is for fraud. In the case of child support, it is failure to pay child support which a person cannot escape by filing bankruptcy. The reason people are still jailed for this is that this is rarely due to lack of financial means but used as a means of revenge against the custodial parent, or just poor character (the non custodial parent simply does not feel that they should be obligated to support their children.

In the case of taxes owed where there is no evidence of fraud, imprisonment is a last resort and after other means to collect have failed. — Preceding unsigned comment added by WritergalAmy (talkcontribs) 02:14, 17 May 2014 (UTC)

A quick search for articles seems to show tax evasion as being a different area of law with debtors' prisons being a civil debt and taxes wandering into more criminal type areas. Overly simplistic comparison of course. The taxes question is a good one though that at first glance seems to be right with debtors' prisons so I added a link to it in the "See Also" section --West Horizon (talk) 18:03, 22 October 2012 (UTC)


I found spam on this page the other day, sexual stuff, deleted it. Thepeganator (talk) 20:25, 20 November 2008 (UTC)

Practical motives[edit]

Some mention should be made of the practical motivation for the state/ruling class(es) to end debtor's prison. As it is now, the article implies that they were ended simply because moral arguments won people over. Concentrating the most disenfranchised members of society together ended up becoming an increasingly bad idea as the labor movement grew and rebelled against the social order. I'll try to remember do look for some sources and make a worthy note of this (later). I welcome any comments, though. --MQDuck (talk) 20:49, 7 September 2009 (UTC)


UK should be included in the list; they are famous for their debtors' prisons thanks to much 19th century literature (e.g. Little Dorritt, among others). --Mr.98 (talk) 14:34, 4 December 2010 (UTC)

Main Criticism[edit]

The following had been the first section, written by someone else, not me:

Main Criticism

The debtors' prison's major conceptual flaw is that indebtedness alone is not immoral or culpable enough to justify imprisonment (as compared to violent crimes, for example), especially considering that lending money always involves the creditor consenting to a risk of default. To many, imprisoning debtors is itself immoral. Another criticism is that by putting indebted people in prison, society prevents them from contributing their labor and thus make it harder for them to pay it off and thus makes it harder for creditors to recoup their investment.

This 1st section was deleted June 2009 as a NPOV criticism, I revived it Jan 2011 with the argument:

The Main Criticism section is not a NPOV dispute, as punishment is opinion in the first place, it is itself a point of view, advocating as it is, damnation, and should thus be held to criticism Thus, punishment can not be held as fact, without seeming to carry the weight of the opinion of criticism. In other words, there is no debtors prison, there is just arrest, and it is wrong, as murder is wrong for many reasons...

It was redeleted Jan 2011 by Seaphoto —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 04:15, 3 January 2011 (UTC)


Anyone else notice that under "United States" it says that Indiana and Minnesota allow arrests for people with outstanding debts, but then it goes on to say that in the linked article both Indiana and Minnesota do not allow for the imprisonment of people for a debt?

I'm tempted to fix all of this myself, but I'll give the originators time to respond to this bizarre anomaly ... It would be good if the first part (the one claiming you can be arrested in such-and-such state for debt) was cited thoroughly, and made to agree with the later part of the article. -WSL / W. Stephen Lush 12:11, 18 January 2011 (UTC) — Preceding unsigned comment added by Wlush2 (talkcontribs)

Since the originator of the material you are questioning also put up a lot of POV silliness in the article (which I deleted) I would encourage you to be bold and fix what needs to be fixed. It is up to the editor who adds such content to sufficiently justify and support its inclusion.Grandpallama (talk) 16:16, 19 January 2011 (UTC)

I've had a look and don't see an explicit contradiction. Minnesota allows arrest but not imprisonment for being a debtor. The article goes into discussions of "defying court orders" and so on. If you still see a problem, go ahead and fix it! WP:BOLD is a great suggestion. For now, I've removed the contradict tag. WormTT 11:16, 21 February 2011 (UTC)
Here's a WSJ article from last week with some info. There is also a post on their law blog.[1] Maybe someone can update the article with these. (talk) 22:25, 19 March 2011 (UTC)
I'm seeing (3) contradictions for U.S. section a casual reader surfing through might find. (1) "banned in 1833" then goes on to talk about modern jailings, the difference between Federal and State needs to be expanded on (2) "six states allow" then later in the article it says (more than a third of states allow), well which is it? (3) "Tennessee and Oklahoma have ruled it unconstitutional" then goes on to describe how Ten/Okl both lock people up for debts. I'm re-writing the whole section in my sandbox, also about half the refs/citations used for the section don't work. --West Horizon (talk) 15:00, 18 October 2012 (UTC) Finished rewriting the origial U.S. section. Incomplete, I only used the states already in the article. --West Horizon (talk) 04:12, 23 October 2012 (UTC)

Washington state law changed in 2011[edit]

The laws concerning debt and imprisonment in Washington state were "revised" to favor debtors in 2011.

Governor Signature & Effective Date:

Apr 22 Governor signed.

Chapter 162, 2011 Laws.

Effective date 7/22/2011*. Sorbe (talk) 10:09, 22 April 2012 (UTC)

U.S. Pre-Modern Debtors' Prisons[edit]

There is about a 100 year long gap in the article (1850 - 1969) with nothing posted about it other than, "Most state constitutions, including Minnesota's, have clauses dating to the 1850s that expressly prohibit the jailing of people for their debts". [1] Changes in state laws, federal laws, regional social debates, major events, legislation affecting debtors' prisons and the institutions that replaced them. Suggested relevent topics include;

  • U.S. Civil War 1861-65,
  • two World Wars 1914-18 and 1939-45,
  • The Great Depression 1930-45,
  • The New Deal 1933-36 and social security legislation 1935-70,
  • widespread adoption of bankruptcy laws by states 1850-1969, most debtors' prisons practices and controversy deals with debt not covered elsewhere under bankruptcy laws, the context of bankruptcy is not as laws but as an evolving institution.
  • poor farms 1840-1950 were criticized as "the new" debtors' prisons and after the civil war as legal slavery, [2]
  • citations in the "Modern" section note Gideon v. Wainwright 1963 [3] which is used to end the "pre-modern" section with the 1960s and starting "modern" at 1970. "Gideon" is a modern federal precedent relating to debtors being imprisoned without legal council. [4]
  • State information, i.e. did Maryland still imprison people for debts over $30 in 1902 ? Old laws are fun to read and help show changes over time to state specific issues.
  • Homestead exemption laws 1839-1860ish


  1. ^ Serres, Chris (17 March 2011). "Is jailing debtors the same as debtors jail?". The Star Tribune (MN, United States). 
  2. ^ Blackmon, Douglas A. (25 March 2008). "Slavery by Another Name". PBS, United States (Author website). 
  3. ^ United States, Supreme Court of (18 March 1963). "Gideon v. Wainwright 372 U.S. 335 (1963)". U.S. Supreme Court ( United States). 
  4. ^ Bronner, Ethan (2 July 2012). "Poor Land in Jail as Companies Add Huge Fees for Probation". New York Times (United States). 
I added the section to the U.S. portion of the page to be expanded on --West Horizon (talk) 15:14, 21 October 2012 (UTC)
I just removed it. No one's added anything in over a year, and articles ought not to have placeholder sections. Meta-content like that is at home here on the talk page! —Largo Plazo (talk) 13:09, 14 February 2014 (UTC)

Child support[edit]

For the things on the chart that don't explicitly say child support, is that included under the 'legal debts' classification? Ranze (talk) 10:02, 8 December 2012 (UTC)

Child support could be included on most of the states listed, only specifically mentioned it when the reference for that state did also. Most jailings for child support it is usually considered a "civil contempt of court charge", not a "legal debt". So while a person is there for being a debtor they are technically jailed for not following court instructions, which of course was to pay debts. Doesn't make sence but there it is.
"Legal debt" in the article for the U.S. section when cited for jailings usually is talking about court fees, fines, back interest, lawyer costs, credit card debts, etc... --West Horizon (talk) 23:50, 18 December 2012 (UTC)

All material concerning modern USA highly suspect, emotional, expert opinion requested[edit]

I am not terribly familiar with the legal intricacies of arrears, bankruptcy, contractual obligation, or body attachment, but pretty much all of the aforementioned material in this article immediately appeared contradictory or confused as I read it, most of the references sensational and misleading.

Both the article and the authors it cite appear to freely conflate numerous items, such as:

  • The criminal versus civil justice systems
  • Private (i.e.: loans, credit cards, bills, etc…) versus public (i.e.: alimony, taxation, fines, etc…) debts
  • Exempt versus non-exempt assets
  • Dischargeable versus non-dischargeable debts
  • Indigent versus negligent defaults
  • Noncompliance with orders necessary before payment versus non-payment itself
  • Debtors scammed or abused by misconduct against federal law (particularly trials carried out in spite of a failure to adequately serve notice on debtors) versus debtors legally punished for genuine misbehavior
  • Debtors surrendering (though often in high-pressure situations without adequate counsel) their legally granted rights versus debtors simply having no rights to surrender
  • Mandatory imprisonment for inescapable debt versus the ability to render those debts void through (the admittedly painful procedure of) bankruptcy at will

I was tempted to just take a flamethrower to all of this material, except that through the willful misreporting present in dozens of citations I could see several types of real injustice being reported, though none of them could be described as legalized debtors' prison with a straight face by anyone possessing the slightest grasp of the American legal system.

Thus, I have made a few tweaks to address the grossest violations of logic I could detect, but I simply lack the understanding necessary to rewrite this mess into something I can be confident in the scope and accuracy of.

Almost all of the citations are blatantly manipulative, borderline lies, and the article itself fails to accurately describe the situation as regards debtors' rights in the US at present. As such, I request that someone with a reasonably extensive professional background in the subject please rewrite this, or offer sufficient insight to clarify the actual ground rules for such situations. (talk) 18:35, 11 July 2013 (UTC)

Some recent vandalism still needs to be reverted[edit]

This recent edit has removed several of the article's references and has replaced them with unreferenced statements. I have not been able to revert these changes due to conflicting intermediate edits. Jarble (talk) 18:59, 7 September 2013 (UTC)

Debtors' prison still in the US?[edit]

Does the characterization of the causes for imprisonment listed at Debtors' prison#Modern U.S. by State as "debtor's prison" amount to original research or synthesis or an unsustainable leap of judgment?

  • "Imprisons debtors as a penalty for failure to pay criminal justice debt." What is a "criminal justice debt"? Is this referring to cases where a convicted person is given the choice between a fine of $X and a prison term of Y years, and chooses the fine but then doesn't pay it, so they revert to the prison term? If so, that isn't imprisonment for debt, it's imprisonment for the crime for which the person was convicted.
  • "Allows imprisonment of debtors for child support debt as a contempt of court charge." This isn't imprisonment for debt, this is imprisonment for failure to comply with the law and a courtroom judgment.

I feel as though this table was a misguided attempt to imply that various states continue to have what amounts to debtors' prison when they don't, or to mischaracterize the penalties for certain actions as imprisonment for debt, in furtherance of some political motive (such as a campaign to abolish imprisonment for parents for not properly supporting their children). —Largo Plazo (talk) 13:16, 14 February 2014 (UTC)

I guess the same applies to Debtors' prison#Modern debtors' prisons (1970–current). —Largo Plazo (talk) 13:27, 14 February 2014 (UTC)
Yes, I complained about this two sections above. There does appear to be a small amount of genuine debtors' rights abuse occurring, but the issue is so arcane that I don't think anyone other than a lawyer would be qualified to describe it. It really might be better to just delete everything about the modern US for now, since it's such a cruft magnet. (talk) 03:34, 3 April 2014 (UTC)
Illinois' section is fairly dubious. A quick read of the (clearly biased) article cited reveals that the person was arrested for failure to appear in civil court, not for a debt. (talk) 04:38, 16 April 2014 (UTC)
I agree with Largo Plazo. This entire section mischaracterizes the grounds for imprisonment. I suggest deletion. (talk) 13:40, 21 May 2014 (UTC)

Removed Hong Kong[edit]

I removed Hong Kong from the list of places that allow imprisonment for debt. The cases mentioned were from 1983. and the Basic Law of Hong Kong which has been in effect since 1997 incorporates the ICCPR, which forbids imprisonment for breach of contract. Unless someone can show a reference of someone recently in jail for debt, it should be removed.

Also, I removed the Mainland China reference, since that seems to be a case of fraud.

Roadrunner (talk) 09:39, 16 June 2014 (UTC)