Debtors Prisons: In Mississippi, Judges Can Lock You Up For Owing Money


The average restitution center inmate owes $3,515 in court debt.

In Mississippi, judges lock up people while they work to earn money to pay off court fees, fines, and restitution, without an end date. People spend an average of four months and up to five years in restitution centers while working for private employers to earn enough money to pay their court-mandated debts. In one example, Annita Husband was sentenced to probation and ordered to pay the court $12,685.50. For over five years, she paid $200 a month towards her fines, fees, and restitution, but she could not keep up with her payments after falling on hard times. As a result, a judge ordered Husband to stay at a restitution center 170 miles from her home until she paid off the remaining balance to the court. Between 2016 and 2018, workers at restitution centers made an average of $6.76 an hour. Along with their court debt, inmates are also responsible for $330 a month in room and board fees, medical costs, and transportation to their jobs.  Only 25 percent of the income earned by inmates went to pay restitution; the remainder went to the corrections department and the courts. 

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Key Findings:

  • Black people account for 49 percent of inmates at restitution centers, compared to 38 percent of the state population.
  • A review of more than 200 orders found judges sent about 80 percent of residents to restitution centers for violating the term of their probation.
Anna Wolfe And Michelle Liu
People’s World