A 55-year-old Pennsylvania mother of seven, sentenced to serve two days in jail because her children were absent too much from school and she couldn’t pay some $2,000 in truancy fines, was found dead in her cell.

The Associated Press reported that District Judge Dean R. Patton, who sent her to prison reluctantly, blamed a judicial system that imprisons poor people who can’t pay fines for minor offensives such as truancy fines. He said:

“This lady didn’t need to be there. We don’t do debtors prisons anymore. That went out 100 years ago.”

It hasn’t gone out in Pennsylvania.

The dead woman was identified as Eileen DiNino, of Reading, who went to jail to wipe clean some $2,000 in fines and court costs imposed on her since 1999 because a number of her children were absent too much from school in Reading and Muhlenberg townships.

The AP reported that more than 1,600 people have been jailed in Berks County over school truancy fines since 2000.


Civil Rights Attorneys Sue Ferguson Over ‘Debtors Prisons’
Joseph Shapiro
In a new challenge to police practices in Ferguson, Mo., a group of civil rights lawyers is suing the city over the way people are jailed when they fail to pay fines for traffic tickets and other minor offenses.
The lawsuit, filed Sunday night on the eve of the six-month anniversary of the police shooting of Michael Brown, alleges that the city violates the Constitution by jailing people without adequately considering whether they were indigent and, as a result, unable to pay.
The suit is filed on behalf of 11 plaintiffs who say they were too poor to pay but were then jailed — sometimes for two weeks or more.

NPR got an advance look at the lawsuit, filed by lawyers from Equal Justice Under Law, ArchCity Defenders and the Saint Louis University School of Law. It charges that Ferguson officials “have built a municipal scheme designed to brutalize, to punish, and to profit.”
In 2013, Ferguson collected $2.6 million in court fines and fees, mainly on traffic violations and other low-level municipal offenses. That was the city’s second-largest source of income, or about 21 percent of its total budget.
The lawsuit challenges the practice of jailing people when they can’t afford to pay those fines. When tickets go unpaid, people are summoned to court and usually offered a new payment plan. If they fail to show up or make the new payments, the city issues an arrest warrant.
In 2013, Ferguson, a city with a population of 21,000, issued nearly 33,000 arrest warrants for unpaid traffic violations and other minor offenses. Many of those were for people who lived outside the city.
READ MORE (and prepare to be filled with rage…)

If you think Ferguson is the only city this kind of injustice is occurring in, think again. It’s probably happening in your own city, if you live State-side. The criminal justice system has been increasingly criminalizing poverty over the last 3 decades, and with the boom of the private prison system, it’s only going to get worse. The time for action is now. More than just protesting, we have to start attacking the laws and policy that allows these miscarriages of justice to occur. #staywoke #farfromover



Contrary to the author’s cautious statement, the pattern couldn’t be more clear: it IS predatory debt collection that is racially based. And acute, generational discrimination has only made a bad situation much worse.

Read the full ProPublica post, written by Paul Kiel and Annie Waldman, »here. image credits: Edwin Torres/ProPublica


Traffic violators are being held in grotesque conditions in de facto Missouri debtors’ prison

The city of Florissant, a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri, is being sued by five named plaintiffs and others who have been targeted by the city’s de facto debtors’ prison system. Those targeted most often tended to be black and poor, and are arrested using trivial municipal codes and petty justifications.

follow @the-movemnt

How Driving While Poor Became A Crime In California

In California, a driver who commits offenses as minor as driving without a seatbelt or littering faces a $490 fine, according to a new report by a coalition of civil rights groups, entitled “Not Just a Ferguson Problem: How Traffic Courts Drive Inequality in California.” Worse, if the driver, who may not be able to afford to pay such a fine, does not pay it off quickly enough or fails to appear in court, the consequence is a suspended license – a consequence that prevents them from driving to work to earn the money they need to pay off their fine. The result is a Catch-22, where the only way to raise the money to gain back their license to drive is to drive without a license and risk even more fines for doing so.

Feb. 9  3:16 pm

Arkansas: Remove Judge Milas Hale III from the bench for running an Illegal Debtors Prison

The ACLU of Arkansas recently filed a suit against Sherwood’s “Hot Checks” division for being a debtors prison.

In 2009 Lee Robertson was undergoing chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer. He couldn’t work.

“Robertson started off owing a few stores about $200. Six years and seven arrests later, in a closed courtroom in Sherwood District Court in Arkansas, Judge Milas “Butch” Hale sentenced the cancer patient to 90 days in jail. His crime? Owing the court $3,054.51.”

But once you begin digging into the details the story only gets worse,

“Between the time of his charges and his latest jailing, Robertson had been sentenced to a stretch in jail over outstanding fines. Sherwood police officers came to his door, demanding money and threatening arrest. A private probation company, ProTrac, also charged Robertson $35 per month on top of the payments to the court, burying him further in debt.  

He’s not alone. Nikki Petree, 40, was charged for bouncing a single check for $28.93, according to the lawsuit. She has been arrested in connection with that charge on at least seven occasions, and been jailed for more than 25 days. She’s paid at least $640 to the city.”

Judge Hale effectively runs his court as a debtors prison. He takes people that are impoverished, unable to pay a few hundred dollars that they owe, and straps them with thousands of dollars of court fees.

If they are unable to pay, which seems unlikely since they were unable to pay a much lower total previously, he then jails them and sends them on probation with a private company that charges them, putting them further in debt.

This is an immoral action against the citizens of this country, We demand that the state of Arkansas remove Judge Hale from the bench and revoke his license to practice law for running an Unconstitutional Debtors Prison.

Sign this Petition Now!


John Oliver goes off on a terrible practice that was supposed to be outlawed in the 1830s.

Debtors’ prisons have made a huge comeback.
Debtors' Prison for Kids: Poor Children Incarcerated When Families Can't Pay Juvenile Court Fees
Many states are incarcerating poor children whose families can't afford to pay juvenile court fees and fines, a report published Wednesday finds, which amounts to punishing children for their families' poverty—and that may be unconstitutional.
  • “Almost all states charge parents for the care and support of youth involved with the juvenile justice system,” the report adds. Those include fees for room and board, clothing, and mental and physical healthcare, among many other charges, and “[i]nability to pay […] can result in youth being deprived of treatment, held in violation of probation, or even facing extended periods of incarceration.” (Juvenile prisons also charge their own, often higher, prices for children’s prescription medications, the report says, which frequently results in high charges that poor families cannot afford to pay and interrupts necessary healthcare for their children.)
  • In all 50 states, a statute exists which deems that if a child and their family can’t afford restitution charges—that is, payment to the victim(s) of the child’s crime, which is a popular sentence in juvenile court—the child is incarcerated.
If the laws of the land are racist, then law enforcement will enforce racists laws.
—  Phillip Atiba Goff, explaining on the Melissa Harris-Perry Show why, although it’s a good start, simply adding Black police officers cannot be the only solution to the over-policing and police brutality targeting Black people in Ferguson and elsewhere: the New Jim Crow application of laws and racist policies must also be changed || Full MHP segment » Here

A mid-Victorian depiction of the debtors’ prison at St Briavels Castle
A debtors’ prison is a prison for people who are unable to pay debt. These prisons have been used since ancient times. Through the mid 19th century, debtors’ prisons were a common way to deal with unpaid debt in Western Europe. Though increasing access and lenience throughout the history of bankruptcy law have rendered debtors’ prisons irrelevant over most of the world, as of May 2013, they persist in countries such as the United States, United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong, and Greece.

Oct. 28  11:22 am
  • liberal: debtors prisons are illegal
  • debtors: actually you can be incarcerated if you can't afford court assigned fees this is super common.
  • debtors: also you can be incarcerated if you can't afford student loan debts in some states
  • liberal: yeah but those are criminals so ...... it doesn't count because they need to be punished for their sins.

Aphra Behn (1640-1689)

Art by histoireinsolite (tumblr)

Born into obscurity, Aphra Behnbecame one of the most important dramatists of the seventeenth century.  Prior to beginning her writing career, Aphra served as spy for Charles II during the Anglo-Dutch Wars.  She also spent time in debtor’s prison and the need for financial security was a driving force in her writing career.  Her first play, The Forc’d Marriage, was produced in London in 1670 when she was approximately 30 years old.  

A prolific writer, Aphra wrote plays, novels, poems, and short stories, in addition to translating works from French and Latin.  Her writings often alluded to sexual desire including same sex attraction, controversial themes for a seventeenth century female writer. Her best-known work today is Oroonoko, a sympathetic story about an enslaved African man.

Aphra Behn’s career created opportunities for later female writers.  In A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf wrote, “All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn which is, most scandalously but rather appropriately, in Westminster Abbey, for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds.”