Why does the US still have ‘debtors’ prisons’?


A warrant was issued for the arrest of a South Carolina woman after she missed one of her payments related to a traffic ticket. During the 57 days she was in jail, she lost a family member, missed her and her son’s birthday and her granddaughter’s first Easter.

This video describes how people, especially those of fewer means, can be jailed for unpaid court fines and fees. This practice is also referred to as modern-day debtors’ prisons. The personal accounts spotlighted in this video show the negative consequences that have resulted from being jailed due to court debt, including job loss and missing important family events. 

You can watch the full video here

Key findings

  • In 15 states, poor Americans have been jailed for fines less than $60.
  • People who cannot afford to pay their court fines and fees are being jailed, which advocates call modern day debtors’ prisons. 
  • Nearly 44 percent of Americans cannot afford an unexpected $400 expense such as a ticket. 
  • A South Carolina woman who was jailed for unpaid fines and fees lost all three of her jobs while she was in custody.
BBC News
BBC News