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Debtor's Prison

It’s like something out of Dickens: Poor people being jailed for failing to pay debts they can never hope to afford. Court-ordered debts impose unfair burdens on poor people in Washington. The ACLU of Washington is exposing this counterproductive system and calling for reform.

Topic Resources

Published: 
Friday, May 31, 2013
When people are convicted of a crime, they expect to be sentenced to jail time or probation.  But there are other long-lasting consequences – and these can be unfair and counter-productive.
Published: 
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
By the time they’re 23 years old, between 30 and 41 percent of Americans have been arrested, according to a study recently released by the journal Pediatrics.  This number has sharply increased in recent decades; in the mid-1960s, only 22 percent of Americans reported having been arrested by the time they turned 23.

Interest Waiver Guide

Document, Published: 
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
This brochure provides information and forms on how to obtain a court order waiving or reducing interest on legal financial obligations (LFOs) in Washington state. As defined by statute RCW 10.82.090, the court may, on motion by the offender, reduce or waive the interest on legal financial obligations ordered as a result of a criminal conviction.
Published: 
Monday, April 4, 2011
Published: 
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
As we said in a previous blog post , you might have thought that “debtors' prisons” were extinct. But people are still being locked up all too often in Washington and around the country simply because they can’t pay their court-ordered financial obligations in a criminal case. Read more
News Release, Published: 
Monday, October 4, 2010
It’s like something out of Dickens: Poor people being jailed for failing to pay debts they can never hope to afford. Washington is one of five states highlighted in a new report on this increasing practice and its devastating impacts on individuals.
News Release, Published: 
Monday, October 4, 2010
The ACLU of Washington and Columbia Legal Services have issued a report examining the unfair burdens court-ordered debts impose on poor people in Washington. “Modern-Day Debtors’ Prisons: The Ways Court-Imposed Debts Punish People for Being Poor” exposes a counterproductive system and calls for reform.

“In for a Penny” – read the ACLU report

Document, Published: 
Monday, October 4, 2010
This ACLU report presents the results of a yearlong investigation into modern-day "debtors' prisons," and shows that poor defendants are being jailed at increasingly alarming rates for failing to pay legal debts they can never hope to afford.
Published: 
Friday, June 25, 2010
You might have thought that “debtors' prisons” were extinct. But people are still being jailed in Washington all too often simply because they can’t pay their court-ordered financial obligations in a criminal case. The Washington Supreme Court recently agreed with ACLU-WA that it is not fair to “automatically” send a person to jail for failure to pay these financial obligations, without a hearing to determine if the person has the ability to pay.

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