by Max Brantley
Debtors' prisons impose devastating human costs. They lead to coercive debt collection, forcing poor people to forgo the basic necessities of life in order to avoid arrest and jailing. Debtors' prisons waste taxpayer money and resources by jailing people who may never be able to pay their debts. This imposes direct costs on the government and further destabilizes the lives of poor people struggling to pay their debts and leave the criminal justice system behind. And most troubling, debtors' prisons create a racially-skewed, two-tiered system of justice in which the poor receive harsher, longer punishments for committing the same crimes as the rich, simply because they are poor.The ACLU already has legal action in progress in eight other states.
Ultimately, debtors' prisons are not only unfair and insensible, they are also illegal. Imprisoning someone because she cannot afford to pay court-imposed fines or fees violates the Fourteenth Amendment promises of due process and equal protection under the law.
A state Freedom of Information Act request by The Sun disclosed 352 cases of people being accused of violating the drunken, insane or disorderly (DID) law in the 2011-2015 period. Since 2011, $24,914.38 in fines were assessed in those cases. Court costs in those cases totaled $27,300.