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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.
Download the ACLU of Washington report, Modern Day Debtor's Prisons. How court-imposed debts push people deeper into poverty and prolong their time in the justice system
Settlement brings reform to Benton County
Courts should not demand LFOs from people eking out a living
FAQs about Legal Financial Obligations (LFOs)


“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.
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.
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.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the law firm of Terrell Marshall Law Group PLLC have filed a class-action lawsuit against Benton County in central Washington over its unconstitutional system for collecting court-imposed debts.

In 2010, a court rule was adopted (with the support of the ACLU and numerous access to justice organizations) authorizing waiver of all filing fees and surcharges for indigent litigants (GR 34).

Amicus brief addressing the practice of requiring individuals whose only income is needs-based public assistance to pay legal financial obligations from extremely limited monthly benefits
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