In the time of author Charles Dickens, there was a scary institution known as a debtor’s prison in which a person, if they were unable or unwilling to pay off a debt they owed, would be put into prison as a way of making up the debt. In the United States they were outlawed in the 19th century as they did not seem to help anyone and certainly did not bring the person out of debt but it seems even in 2012 the debtor’s prison is alive and well.

Take Lisa Lindsay, for example. She was told after receiving a medical bill that was erroneously sent to her that she didn’t have to worry about it and it was not her bill to pay. It soon became her bill to pay when the bill was turned over to a collection agency. When she didn’t pay, she went straight to jail (being taken by state troops, no less), without passing GO or collecting two hundred dollars.

In the state of Missouri, the practice seems to be so often done that it practically has the timing of ballet. A person is required to show up in court to meet with their creditor after said creditor proves in civil court that they do in fact have a debt owed to them. If the person fails to show up for any reason, the creditor can then employ a process called a “body attachment” which can be used just like an arrest warrent. The person is arrested and put in jail and the amount they are required to pay for bond, not by coincidence, is exactly the same as what the person owes.

We live in an country which buries students deep into debt, and few students leave their place of higher education owing no money. I fear that it is just a matter of time before students by the tens of thousand will start receiving menacing threats that they need to start paying off their student loans or face time in prison. I suppose that this will be quite a good thing for the ramen noodle industry — feeding poor college students for decades for pennies on the dollar — but for the rest of us, it will be quite a terrible ride.

2 Comments

  1. Those are terrible stories, Gordon. I always thought you could never be jailed if you didn’t pay your bills. I guess that isn’t true any longer. The student loan debt problem is huge and ungainly and I fear the repercussive consequences.

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