Exposing Modern-Day Debtors’ Prisons

Published: 
Monday, March 23, 2015

How do you turn $41 into over $2,000?  Courts across Washington and throughout the U.S. have figured out how to turn small fines for routine traffic violations and other non-violent infractions into major debts for individuals without the means to pay.  HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” with John Oliver recently examined this subject, noting the ways in which differences in race and income levels are creating two justice systems: one for the rich and one for the poor.

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It’s time to put an end to modern-day debtors’ prisons. A bill currently before the state legislature would reform our system of court-imposed debts to assure that ability to pay is considered when fines are imposed.  A minor infraction should not lead to a life sentence of poverty and repeated incarceration. Learn more about the problem of court-imposed debts and how they lead to modern-day debtors’ prisons in our report, co-authored with Columbia Legal Services:  Modern-Day Debtors' Prisons