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Time to End Debtor’s Prisons in the United States




Debtor’s prisons thrive in the United States. On February 3, 2013, Prisonpath posted an article about “Tenants Imprisoned for Failure to Pay their Rent.” Many readers were shocked at such treatment of  Arkansas tenants  in the 21st century.

The constitution guarantees fairness to all Americans. Unfortunately, we have continued to see Americans imprisoned, because they are too poor to pay court fines and fees. This terrible practice has continued in many states, even though the Supreme Court held decades ago that individuals cannot be imprisoned because they do not have the means to pay court fines and fees.

In 2016, the top national organizations of state court leaders created the National Task Force on Fines, Fees, and Bail Practices. The task force has published a guide for state and local judges to use to protect the rights of individuals, who are poor and unable to pay court fines and fees.

An example of a debtor’s prison is exemplified by Qumotria Kennedy. In 2016, as a single mother of three living in poverty, she was arrested and jailed, because she could not pay $1001 for unpaid traffic fines and fees. Kennedy lost her part-time job cleaning a motel and was separated from her child.

By following the new guide, the court in the Kennedy case would have held an ability-to-pay hearing and would have considered alternatives (i.e. community service) before imposing jail for nonpayment of a fine and/or a fee.

It is time to end debtor’s prisons throughout the United States.

By: Bradley Schwartz
Founder of

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