Jailing people because they can't pay off their debts has long been acknowledged as a terrible idea. However, that hasn't stopped some cities or counties from using debtors' prisons as ways to extract revenues from people.
The Los Angeles Times has a really infuriating report about debtors' prisons in America that brings us the story of Jayne Fuentes, a Richland, Wash. resident who was recently offered the choice to either stay longer in jail or spend days on a work crew due to unpaid debt. Essentially, Fuentes couldn't pay off court fees that she racked up after being convicted of theft and drug possession, and was given an ultimatum to pay up or stay in jail. Thankfully for her, a lawsuit she filed along with two other debtors and with the help of the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union ended the practice of debtors' prisons in her community.
All the same, the ACLU says that the practice of jailing people who can't pay debts remains shockingly common throughout the country. In Fuentes' own Benton County, an estimated 320 prisoners were jailed over a six-month period for not being able to pay off debts. What's more, an ACLU lawsuit in Colorado Springs, Colo. revealed 800 cases of people who have been sent to prison for an inability to pay off fines related to minor violations.
The full Los Angeles Times report on debtors' prisons is well worth your time and can be found at this link.