If You Think Debtors’ Prisons Are An Historical Footnote, Think Again
By Jose Medina ACLU of Texas Media Coordinator The Texas Observer has a compelling article summarizing results from reports (including one by the ACLU) detailing criminal justice debt and what it does to communities, taxpayers and indigent individuals who can’t pay. That’s a long-winded way to say that debtors’ prisons have been reinstituted in this state and the rest of the country. A provocative read, for sure, particularly the reference to how the the U.S. Supreme Court has “held that imprisoning someone merely because of his inability to pay a fine or restitution was fundamentally unfair,” reported the Observer. The ACLU of Texas has sued a south Texas county because officials there persist in doing what the U.S. Supreme Court has said can no longer be done. In case you missed it, a few months ago the ACLU of Texas sued Hidalgo County for sending dozens – possibly hundreds – of indigent teens to jail because they were unable to pay fines related to truancy violations. Can’t pay truancy fines? Go to jail, miss even more school, and eventually drop out. The litigation is pending and we’ll keep you updated on any developments. But our lawsuit speaks to the point made by these reports that criminal justice debt can further compound the problems the fines are supposed to fix. It’s essentially, as the ACLU report points out, a case of modern-day debtors' prisons, where persons are jailed for the crime of being poor.