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Think Debtors Prisons Are a Thing of the Past? Not in Mississippi (themarshallproject.org)
165 points by SQL2219 9 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 127 comments





> The Mississippi Department of Corrections, or MDOC, repeatedly declined our requests to visit the restitution centers and to discuss them with state officials. But in a statement issued in late December in response to our findings, the department noted that it follows state law when operating the restitution program.

If this program were one of integrity and justice, it should not have a problem exposing its complete workings to its citizens. Notwithstanding the possibility of unreported history here, this stinks.

>Darrell Bridges says he earned almost $2,000 working at Checkers during his stint in the Pascagoula Restitution Center in 2013. But the money was never applied to the $3,403 debt he owed from an attempted robbery when he was 17, records show.

>As a worker makes money, the corrections department takes the first cut in room and board, then usually holds the remaining earnings until there’s enough to pay the entire debt. When someone leaves the program, the corrections department sends their earnings to the court to cover its costs. It distributes the rest to victims, then to pay criminal fines.

Indefinite debt bondage is unjust in any form, but the state and its agents reserving for itself the lion share of this feast of blood and life is especially reprehensible.


Sadly, this happens in a lot of states. If you owe a fine and don't pay it because you can't, they'll keep tacking on interest until it reaches a certain limit, then throw you in jail.

Our current state of government scares the hell out of me.


What's the alternative? Fines and jail are basically the legal system's two main options for punishment.

If a poor person commits a crime, that's not serious enough to throw them in jail, what should the legal system do?

It seems like "If you're poor, you can commit non-felony crimes without consequences" seems like a REAL bad policy idea.


Depends. If it's car related, revoke the license until the payment is made. Maybe do what the debt collectors do and harass them on the phone or garnish wages. Another thought, maybe we shouldn't make so many things crimes. We only do it to pay for the obscenely large justice and policing system. To me it just seems like a jobs program with a very steep societal cost.

I would think throwing someone in jail who owes money for a fine is very counter productive, considering how much it costs to incarcerate and jail someone. It's like spending $5000 to not collect a $500 debt. We aren't very good at government.


> A judge sentenced Husband to the restitution center in 2015 to pay off almost $13,000 she owed from an embezzlement conviction in 2009.

> The State of Mississippi had locked Husband into a modern-day debtors prison.

Let’s agree that this sort of punishment is potentially not conducive to restorative justice.

But what justification is there for the article to deceive the reader with a comparison to debtors prisons?

The EU Convention on Human Rights bans debtors prisons. It states: "No one shall be deprived of his liberty merely on the ground of inability to fulfil a contractual obligation." Restitution as punishment for a crime does not arise out of a “contractual obligation.” It arises out of a criminal conviction.


Potato potato, that person would not have been in prison had they paid off the debt.

Where the debt comes from matters why exactly?

The prison should be for one purpose only: to make society safer. If someone is dangerous enough to be in prison, they should not be out regardless of whether they owe money or not.

In other words, if you can't buy your way out of prison, a debt should not bring you into one.


> Potato potato, that person would not have been in prison had they paid off the debt.

No. The meaning of words matters. Words, used precisely, are how people with different values and beliefs can communicate and reach agreements in a functioning society. When journalists, who are supposed to inform and educate the public, twist the meaning of words in order to make a point, that’s wrong.

> Where the debt comes from matters why exactly?

Because a debt arising from a criminal conviction requires the convicted person to have engaged in a wrongful act in the first place. Mere failure to pay a civil debt does not.

> The prison should be for one purpose only: to make society safer

Views about the proper role of prisons vary widely. Most people believe that prisons are for punishing people for doing bad things. Note that by your reasoning, many people who do very bad things should not be imprisoned because there is no risk of recidivism. Women who murder their abusive husbands, for example, are almost never going to go and murder someone else. By your reasoning, they shouldn’t go to prison to punish them for their murder.


> Women who murder their abusive husbands, for example, are almost never going to go and murder someone else. By your reasoning, they shouldn’t go to prison to punish them for their murder.

That's a reasonable position to take, actually. Depends on the level of abuse, I'd say. https://www.cnn.com/2019/06/07/europe/uk-sally-challen-intl-...


The thing is, jail also acts as a deterrent to the first murder. If it's common knowledge that everyone gets one "murder your abusive spouse" consequence free, a lot more people might commit murders in cases where a divorce might have worked out better and less deadly.

Then that's about jail as a deterrent (making society safer by discouraging future crimes), not as a form of punishment for someone who did a bad thing.

It may be true that the deterrent is justifiable because it's also a legitimate form of punishment (for instance, saying "If anyone kills their spouse this year, I'll skin this puppy alive" might be a deterrent, but it's probably unjust), but it's not acting as punishment alone.


Aren't all punishments deterrents tho?

No.

A punishment fails as a deterrent if:

+ it is not expected + it is not understood + it is not net negative

The first, not expected, fits when; one believes their actions are legal and then they are found not to be (correctly or incorrectly); one expects a different punishment to the one given, and the expected punishment was not a deterrent (often seen in fraud cases).

The second, not understood, fits when one expects the punishment but failed to understand its impact on them. For example, those incarcerated may misunderstand the lasting trauma of loss of privacy, agency, and family.

The third, not a net negative applies in cases where the punishment is deemed an acceptable risk or cost, or even desirable. Desirable has repeatedly been the case for the extremely impoverished or ill. Acceptable cost is seen in many corporate dealings, but mainly speeding and parking tickets for the individual. Acceptable risk is even more the corporate case (legal departments evaluate legal risk constantly) but is also the case for career criminals and moonshot criminals.


> A punishment fails as a deterrent if:

> + it is not expected + it is not understood + it is not net negative

Also if it is not expected to be avoided if the behavior sought to be deterred is avoided. The perception that a punishment is applied arbitrarily or with prejudice on grounds other than the behavior notionally justifying it defeats its value as deterrent as surely as a lack of perception that it will be applied if the behavior occurs.


I'd argue that you often only need one of those criteria.

Witness Vinod Khosla and his battles: he has expected fines, understands them (though disagrees), and the net negative is (in his case) so trivial as to be negligible.

"Oh, you want to fine me $10,000/day? Well, go for it. By the end of my life that might amount to 3% of my net worth".


That was in fact what I was attempting to convey. It was unfortunate that each point was formatted onto one line - I forgot that HN does not use markdown!

No - 'rayiner gave the example of punishing someone who killed their abusive spouse. First, the actual punishment certainly doesn't deter them from committing the same crime again in the future (they are, statistically at least, not particularly likely to marry another abusive spouse). Second, the threat of future punishment is almost certainly insufficient to dissuade them from the original act: if they feel like they're in immediate physical danger, they probably are reasoning that it would be worth it for them to risk punishment.

Besides desperation, there's also passion and mental instability. There's enough cases where you might just not be thinking about the potential punishment at all when committing a crime, meaning it doesn't deter you. For mental instability, we as a society have mostly decided we're okay with reducing/eliminating punishment (and perhaps that you should be institutionalized instead); for passion we generally haven't decided that, except perhaps with the concept of "temporary insanity."


Depends on the amount of domestic abuse doesn't it? I think the rate is so high we should give the gall a medal and a standing ovation.

I challenge you on "jail also acts as a deterrent to the first murder" as a cliched truism and again on "...a lot more people might commit murders..." - I mean really, you added the might because even you know you're just throwing BS against the proverbial wall.

I was under the impression that it was widely considered true that the threat of jail does act as a deterrent; and that it was longer jails times (doing more so) that was open to debate. Are you arguing that, if there was no jail time for anything at all, people would not commit more crimes?

> The meaning of words matters.

Sure, and (unless wikipedia is lying) the words "debtor's prison" have for centuries included the imprisonment of people unable to pay court-ordered judgments, as well as private debts. Per that definition, the article's usage is correct.

(You can certainly make the argument that the situation described in the article doesn't meet the specific "contractual obligation" language in the EuCHR's definition, but that has nothing to do with your claim that the article is misleading people.)


You’re misreading the article. To enforce a private debt, you have to sue and get a “court ordered judgment.” A debt by itself is not executable until you get a judgment. “Debtors prison,” consistent with the EuCHR definition, historically referred to putting people in prison for failure to pay a court ordered judgement arising out of a private debt, i.e. “a contextual obligation.”

>No. The meaning of words matters. Words, used precisely, are how people with different values and beliefs can communicate and reach agreements in a functioning society.

A society that puts people in jail for not having $13000 to pay is not a "functioning society".

>Because a debt arising from a criminal conviction requires the convicted person to have engaged in a wrongful act in the first place. Mere failure to pay a civil debt does not.

If the convicted should go to jail, they should go to jail from a conviction for the wrongful act itself -- not for not being able to pay the debt created by it.


So what should happen if I get convicted of a crime and refuse to pay the fine? Am I in the clear now? There has to be some escalation of punishment for people who won't pay fines or the incentives suggest they just don't pay.

Debtors prisons don't make sense for normal debts, but a fine for embezzlement is not the same thing at all. The $13,000 isn't really a debt as much as it is a punishment. The real question is whether the corrections system passed up an effective opportunity to garnish normal wages - but I can imagine a lot of practical issues with that approach.

I've little doubt the situation in Mississippi is dodgy, but these aren't debtors prisons. These are strange ordinary prisons.

EDIT Hah, nevermind turns out I didn't know what a debtors prison was. Thanks fenomas.


>So what should happen if I get convicted of a crime and refuse to pay the fine? Am I in the clear now?

No, there's forfeiture for that.


> So what should happen if I get convicted of a crime and refuse to pay the fine?

If you refuse; the assets should be seized from you and the fine paid that way.

If you are unable to, then the fine is, ipso facto, excessive.

In either case penal slavery is not an appropriate answer.


Having to pay $13000 after embezzling $11000 is not excessive.

Having what is functionally a civil debt (even if it is imposed as part of a criminal judgement) for restitution collected by the means normal for unsecured civil debt, in the amount of the damages actually incurred plus reasonable interest, etc., is not excessive.

A criminal fine that it is impossible to pay with the person's actual means without impairing access to the basic necessities of life when the fine is imposed (including reasonably anticipated future income if the required mechanism of repayment allows it to be paid over time from future income), and no matter whether it is characterized as restitution or otherwise, no matter how it relates to past criminal gains, is excessive, and penal slavery (whether or not permitted by the 13th Amendment, which sets the bounds of what is legal but not what is moral) for inability to pay such an excessive fine compounds the injustice with gross violation of the most fundamental of human rights, and even more incarceration without penal slavery for inability (as opposed to refusal and obstruction when the means we're available) to pay would be piling injustice upon injustice.


"Though in arrears on fines and court fees, many didn’t need to pay restitution at all—at least 20 percent of them were convicted of drug possession."

This whole line of argument about the use of the term debtors' prison not being accurate because of the circumstances of this one individual, as if her situation were the only being considered is so useless. Stop trying to detail the focus with the distraction. She was one example. People are thrown into those prisons (and simply indebtedness in general in other states) simply for being unable to pay arbitrary fines and fees. That she also got sent to that prison for a debt does not make it no longer a debtors' prison,


In any case I think people are ignoring the 8th amendment's prohibition the excessive fines, which applies to the states per supreme court ruling (Timbs vs. Indiana).

The prohibition on excessive fines has it's roots in the Magna Carta. (quoting from the Timbs vs. Indiana Supreme Court decision) "...Magna Carta required that economic sanctions "be proportioned to the wrong" and "not be so large as to deprive [an offender] of his livelihood."


> Women who murder their abusive husbands, for example, are almost never going to go and murder someone else. By your reasoning, they shouldn’t go to prison to punish them for their murder.

Yes, correct, thanks for setting out that argument. The organization Survived and Punished advocates for exactly this, because the argument you're making is sound: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Survived_and_Punished https://survivedandpunished.org/


"In many cases, the only failing of the person had been to not pay the debt".

Explain again, how that is the article's fault, "deceiving us" into feeling a "restitution center" is a "debtor's prison".

There are people there who have crimes other than/as well as financial obligations. But there are also those who solely have the financial side.

Your argument is that because it's not a "civil debtor's prison", it doesn't count. But that's you inserting that qualifier. Historically, debtor's prisons were used both criminally and civilly.


I see your point, but taking that on a tangent id say someone who has committed murder is more dangerous than the average person.

> No. The meaning of words matters. Words, used precisely, are how people with different values and beliefs can communicate and reach agreements in a functioning society. When journalists, who are supposed to inform and educate the public, twist the meaning of words in order to make a point, that’s wrong.

You're correct in that words do matter but entirely incorrect in your position, this is a debtors prison, it's literally in the name...

> Wiki: "A debtors' prison is a prison for people who are unable to pay debt."

Also starting a reply with "No" makes you seem like an asshole and invalidates much of your credibility and people's desire to hear you out. The GP had a well reasoned (and correct) response to your original comment but you proceeded to devalue it with 2 letters.


>Also starting a reply with "No" makes you seem like an asshole and invalidates much of your credibility and people's desire to hear you out. The GP had a well reasoned (and correct) response to your original comment but you proceeded to devalue it with 2 letters.

Since he followed that "No" with several paragraphs, that's a moot point (not to mention much ruder that his reply, what with "makes you look like an asshole" and stuff).

And, no, "no" is not something that makes people look like assholes. It's just an expression of opinion -- whether accompanied by a justification/arguments or not. Even on its own, that is, without further arguments, it's still useful as a kind of "poll" (how many commenters agree or disagree with a thesis).

At worse, it's curt.


I will expand upon your point. Debt in this case is a civil matter between two private individuals. The State has an interest only, if that, in enforcing court decisions such as garnishment of wages or liens. To sentence someone to jail or prison for the crime of a civil disagreement is sick and wrong and I invite you (abstract yous) to prove me wrong via rhetoric.

These people had no wage garnishment, instead they were sentenced to forced labor. Why the difference? Because they are poor.

And the line between civil and criminal is often drawn in a peculiar way: Repeat copyright violation enough and somehow it's criminal not civil, but systematically fail to pay artists their royalties it remains civil forever. Embezzling $1000 is criminal, keeping $1000 out of an employee paycheck is a civil.


According to the information in this thread, the amount owed was for a criminal conviction for embezzlement. This is not about a contract between private parties.

"People sent to the centers had been sentenced for felonies but didn’t commit violent crimes, according to the program rules. "

If you are fined $20,000 for a thing and are unable to pay, you end up in a prison and are forced to work off your debt.

This is functionally what debtors prisons were used for

From the wiki summary:

> Destitute persons who were unable to pay a court-ordered judgment would be incarcerated in these prisons until they had worked off their debt via labour or secured outside funds to pay the balance


Say I did a bunch of work for your company. And you stiff me for $10,000. I can't just go immediately seize your back account. I first have to establish in the court of law that you owe me money.

So I'd sue you and the judge would award me $10,000. But he would award me the $10,000 as court ordered judgement which is the legal instrument that proves you owe me money.

So that line doesn't mean quite what you think it means.


Huh, TIL, for some reason I always thought they were for general debt.

This would actually happen. Usually the person you owe money to would drag you to court and then get you thrown in a debtors prison.

I guess my point was that you could end up there for civil or criminal things.


YYDL, actually. They were for general debt.

Maybe the reason they would argue this is a debtors prison and not merely a matter arising from a criminal conviction is that she was ordered to pay back money which she had not, and therefore was remanded to the debtors prison. If she had the money, and paid it back, I would argue this would not have happened. The restitution centre is literally there to pay back debts, and not of the 'to society' kind.

But also to the very premise of theft, if I take $13,000 which I had access to from my boss but was not supposed to take, that is criminal (fair). But if my boss takes $13,000 from me, because he is a lousy cheapskate who decides to not pay me fairly for the time which I worked. That is a civil matter? Hell, in this case it is not even a civil matter, they are allowed to only pay her $4 an hour. 92 weeks of cheap forced labour.

Seems to me these words are all just used to reinforce the status quo.


Maybe the reason they would argue this is a debtors prison and not merely a matter arising from a criminal conviction is that she was ordered to pay back money which she had not, and therefore was remanded to the debtors prison.

She went to jail because she stopped going to her probation appointments.

She said her probation officers threatened her: "Next time you come in and you don’t have any money, you’re going to jail."

Fearing she would be thrown in prison for nonpayment, she stopped reporting.


> The EU Convention on Human Rights bans debtors prisons.

FWIW it is the "European Convention on Human Rights", drafted in 1950, usually abbreviated as ECHR (with its court being ECtHR). It is distinct from the EU, being a product of the Council of Europe.

Whereas the founding document for the EU (Treaty of Rome) was signed in 1957.

As for the EU, it has its own "Charter of Fundamental Rights", somewhat based upon the ECHR, but I can't spot a reference to debts or contractual obligations.

The ECHR would not forbid this Mississippi practice, as Articles 4 and 5 allow it. Similarly Articles 5 & 6 of EU CFR would also seem to allow this practice (read the explanatory notes).

Please clarify just what Convention, or Charter it is you are referring to, and which body created it.

ECHR - https://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/Collection_Convention_195...

Article 4 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Article_4_of_the_European_Conv...

Article 5 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Article_5_of_the_European_Conv...

EU CFR - https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/HTML/?uri=OJ:...


Let's not also ignore the fact that most of the (Western European) states have explicitly _not_ ratified Article 4 of the EuCHR, despite having been signatories to the Convention.

> But what justification is there for the article to deceive the reader with a comparison to debtors prisons?

Yeah, this isn't debtors prison; it is penal slavery.

Not that it makes it any better.

> The EU Convention on Human Rights bans debtors prisons

It unconditionally (unlike the US Constitution) bans slavery, too.

I'm not sure what bearing “The EU Convention on Human Rights bans...” has on the facts here; not only does the Convention not apply here, but even if it did what the law prohibits has no bearing on what the facts actually are.


Words do matter and you are writing a deliberately deceitful post here trying to shy away from the fact that this is a debtors prison, full stop.

Once someone has been released from prison they have fulfilled their obligation to society. Sentencing them to prison again solely because they owe money from a previous sentence is a perversion of justice and an absolute farce. They are sent to prison because they owe a monetary debt.


When they've been released from prison and paid their fines and restitution money, they've fulfilled their obligation to society.

> The EU Convention on Human Rights bans debtors prisons. It states: "No one shall be deprived of his liberty merely on the ground of inability to fulfil a contractual obligation." Restitution as punishment for a crime does not arise out of a “contractual obligation.” It arises out of a criminal conviction.

Sure, but the Convention does not define the term "debtors' prison," however much you may want to imply that it does.

It merely says what you quoted; it says that this particular thing is a human right. It does not close the door to debtors' prisons that do not violate human rights but are still odious in civilized society; it certainly does not close the door to violations of human rights that are not enumerated in the Convention, perhaps because some party to the Convention wishes to continue violating human rights. The argument "Because the Convention doesn't ban it, it must not be a debtors' prison" is just as sound as saying "Because the 13th amendment doesn't ban it, it isn't slavery." Forced labor as punishment for a crime is permissible in the United States, and it's still slavery, of course.

The meaning of words matters, and a lawyer, of all people, ought to use words precisely when speaking about justice and imprisonment.


The "except as a punishment for crime" in the 13th amendment was not in the first drafts. But less progressive minded forces got in the final version with the obvious intent of using it[1]. And it has certainly gotten a lot of use in spite of occasional whack-a-mole attempts to moderate it.

[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thirteenth_Amendment_to_the_Un...


"Looking back, Husband said she was punished for being poor..."

Nonsense: she was punished for embezzling $11,000 from her place of employment.


At first I nodded in agreement. Then I wondered if someone had the $11,000 would they still be in jail?

Convictions for theft and embezzlement usually have two separate punishments: imprisonment and restitution (give back what you stole). As to the restitution part only, being able to pay back the money can avoid imprisonment related to the restitution judgment. But there is nothing unfair about that.

Paying restitution is one thing, being forced to stay in jail while paying it back is quite another. Normally these cases are handled with garnished wages.

The idea that if you give back what you stole your punishment will be lessened is as old as theft.

To be clear, there wasn't _only_ restitution (center) punishment. She was placed on probation for 5 years of a 7 year sentence. Except she was also being "held" at the restitution center while that part of her sentence was being carried out.

Probably. They're doing jail time either way because that much money is a felony. This may actually be the compassionate outcome? Im not sure though.

Yeah, this is fucking insane, from top-to-bottom... left-to-right... inside-and-out... fucking insane.

This is quite literally forced indentured servitude, or what I normally call "slavery." This is fucking slavery.

At no point should one be forced to work before or after they've already paid their "debt" to society; extreme circumstances not withstanding (i.e. you still have a billion dollars after serving your time and can easily afford to pay back your debt). At no point, should ANYONE, be required to be imprisoned, worked, and have daily wages withheld for the "cost" of that imprisonment, furthering their imprisonment-- this is straight up a fucking violation of human rights and theft, the interest rate on the withholding is very likely not paid back, but I'm 100% sure they (prison owners or faction in that industry) profit on it.

Where can I donate what little money I have to stopping this fucked up practice and making it illegal? Maybe I missed it in the article due to the increasing amounts of (naive) disbelief and (pure) rage I encountered as I read it.


> At no point should be forced to work before or aftere they've already paid their "debt" to society

Weird wording. The fact that the debt has not been paid is why they're working, no?

My dad's accountant embezzled from his business.

The person spent all the money over the years and by the the time they were caught, there was little left. And unfortunately, that's a pretty typical story. (FYI, business insurance may or may not cover internal theft; that's often a separate policy or a rider.)

In the end, the crime netted a hefty sum at the expense of the victim.

If you take something, you should have to give it back.

IDK what this vague "debt to society" is; I just know my dad is out $100k+.


That really sucks for your dad and this may be hard for you to answer objectively given your proximity to the situation but imagine if the guy who robbed your dad got tossed into this place with $100k + court fees and maybe child support if he had kids.

At minimum wage pay, with ~20% of his earnings going to pay down the debt that's effectively a life sentence. My question to you is, does that seem fair for what is essentially a white collar, non-violent crime?


Where does it say they have to make minimum wage? If someone was stupid enough to hire the guy again as an accountant, he could make whatever he made before. Hell, like most of the geniuses in this story, he could embezzle from the next guy to pay the last one!

Edit: I do think the system they have going on is absolutely ridiculous, especially considering the infrastructure costs when it's only being used for "more than 200 people" (which I'm assuming means less than 300). But some of the responses here from bleeding hearts are insane.


> does that seem fair

It seems the very definition of equitable.

(That said, I do think that the restitution amount can be adjusted, and courts do that. I object to the idea that 0% is appropriate.)


In genereal I find the wording "debt to society" very misleading. Does one have the right to commit a crime in exchange for punishment? I would say no. Punishment should serve as deterrant and as rehabilitation where possible, otherwise to keep society safe.

I'm sure you can contact the lawyers involved.

The more I read about "justice" in the US the more I realise how fucked up and perverted the concept of justice is in that country.

We're always quick to criticise other countries for the failings or bad design of their justice system and lack of respect for human rights, but are we much better? We might be better on paper, but is that actually reflected in reality? I'm not so sure.


If you get convicted for embezzlement, as in the first example in the article, and don't pay your fines and restitution, what do you think the courts should do?

Wage garnishing is easy? If you have an employer then now they are on the hook for following through as well.

Hell, shut down the restitution centers and use that budget to help cover court fees instead!

Think about it: if someone gets fined $10,000 and is working minimum wage, is there really anything good accomplished by trying to recover that much? Just cap out some wage garnishment scheme if you want to fine them.


The criminal has an actual victim who needs his money back. It's pretty important to him (or her) that he gets his money back. Maybe she could pay the restitution with the money she embezzled.

She also skipped her meeting with her probation officer, more than once, and she didn't report to the probation officer (or the court, whatever) that she got an increase in income, when she got her job at Harrah's. Funny, that.

They don't mention that in the article, do they.

Here's the hearing transcript: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6598211-Annita-Husba...


- the fines are not merely around making victims whole. There’s also just fines as punishment on top of that

- even if they are just about that, do you think that a debtors prison is going to get that money back sooner?

- given how being broke in America is basically a death sentence, I have empathy for people trying to scrape by

- (now we’re in income reporting reform!) why isn’t Harrahs reporting the wage increase? Why even give opportunities for lies/mistakes/omissions?

Even if what you said is true, putting people in jail is not super ethical nor is it useful at accomplishing much for society, for the individuals involved, and “punishment as deference” is disproved so much.

Not seeing the argument for this programs continued existence


Per the article, most of the money wasn't used for restitution, and many individuals are arrested for merely not paying fines and fees, no restitution given.

That's just criminalizing being poor.


Absolutely they mentioned it in the article.

Where do they mention that she didn't report an increase in income?

Wage garnishment?

Should be treated like unsecured debt. Bankruptcy being an option.

So let's expand that out.

Every crime has a monetary value. Once someone has gone to prison and paid their debt to society, is there any good reason according to you that we shouldn't then throw them in another prison until they pay restitution?

Hell, maybe it's even a good thing that silcon valley could disrupt. Let's have companies skim a bit off the top and build smart prisons. They get to spend longer in debtor prison and others earn more money, it's a win/win.


Because she was skipping meetings with her probation officer, you can infer she hasn't paid her debt to society.

Not to mention, you know, the actual debt that she owed.


I don't care about the particulars of the individual and you focusing on that is clearly deliberate to avoid discussing the actual topic at hand.

What I'm talking about is that these sort of facilities shouldn't exist at all, full stop. Do you think that people that say, couldn't afford to pay their speeding ticket right away should be thrown into prison until they pay their debt?


I agree, embezzlers with priors should get a 15 year minimum sentence. Instead, Husband got let out(!) and had to meet a $250/month minimum payment. Far too lenient.

It sounds to me like they’re actually trying to rehabilitate her. How much of her 7 year sentence has she actually served?


>but are we much better?

Generally yes.

Worldwide the bar is not high.


[flagged]


There's lots of space between recognizing a system is better than most and "So yay go USA!"

“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” - Winston Churchill

In that regard sure we arent the best. But there are far worse countries.

I find it sad to see this type of argument, increasingly it seems our only justification for the decline of the US is, "At least we're not as bad as X." As in, "Sure companies and the gov sell all our data, but at least we're not like China!". Feels like we've given up even trying to live up to our liberal Western ideals...

It's not a justification for anything.

It is a response providing perspective to questions like "but are we much better?"


Agreed, and I should of elaborated: sure we're worse in the case of incarceration, but our legal system is still way better than in other countries.

There's nothing wrong with comparisons. I just wonder why we started comparing ourselves with the worst rather than the best.

The U.S. has the single highest incarceration rate in the world. In that respect, we have the worst criminal justice system in the world. Other metrics matter, of course, but let's not kid ourselves: the American system is an unmitigated disaster.

I see several comments complaining about the US incarceration rate without mentioning the US crime rate. You can’t credibly assert that the US incarceration rate is too high without knowing how it compares to the crime rate.

More than just the crime rate, the rate at which crimes are successfully prosecuted and the resources exist to enable incarceration. Some countries that have a very high crime rate [1], but have a much lower rate of incarceration than the US [2]. In these cases, the US having a higher prison population is just a consequence of the US being wealthy.

1. http://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/crime-rate-by-cou...

2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_incarcera...


> I see several comments complaining about the US incarceration rate without mentioning the US crime rate.

The former is a major cause of the latter.

> You can’t credibly assert that the US incarceration rate is too high without knowing how it compares to the crime rate.

The incarceration rate is too high, in part, because it drives the crime rate.

It's also too high because it's historically largely a product of criminal justice policies adopted as a direct replacement for chattel slavery as a tool of racial suppression and which have continued to this day with that effect, having spread beyond the region which had chattel slavery to replace to the whole nation.

This is particularly true of penal slavery.


A high crime rate is a telltale sign of a dysfunctional society, anyway. Something is rotten.

The US does not have the same class structure as most developed nations. We have 40 million black Americans who are descended from slaves and faced legal discrimination up until the mid-1960s. This population makes up a disproportionate share of our prison population. Since then, a second extremely large ethnic underclass had immigrated across the US’s southern border. This population also makes up a disproportionate share of our prison population. As far as I am aware, this is unique among developed western nations.

There's more to it than that - there's the plea bargain system, which is largely considered to be unethical elsewhere, that increases the _conviction_ rate.

In some places, incarceration rates could be lower only because capital punishment is much more widely used.

Not that US's incarceration rates are sane; to the contrary.

I definitely think that incarceration is actively harmful at fighting crime, because it puts a criminal in an environment of worse criminals, and provides room and board to just hang with them and learn their rules by heart (or be abused, or killed by them). Then the felon is released and has a lot of trouble finding work, so the new criminal knowledge burns to be used.


You can sanity check those assumptions. Worldwide executions are rare especially compared to US incarceration rates.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/04/death-penalty...


In my opinion this is just one symptom of the overall illness our society is suffering from. There's no unity among people. It's very much a materialistic society. Everyone thinks everything should be safe. The government has become the arbitrator for fucking every conflict which further prevents us from seeing the humanity in each other. And that's critical because there seems to be less humanity in us every year. The Injustice system is just an outgrowth of this madness.

They aren’t a thing of the past. Debt related criminal offenses are just charged differently as contempt of court or fraud: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/debtors-prison-aclu-rep...

The US has the highest real incarceration per capita on the planet except Seychelles, mostly for nonviolent crimes that were instituted (War on Drugs) by Nixon to attack the poor, minorities and other “opponents.” Also consider the number of for-profit prisons and the prison industrial complex that runs transportation, staffing and internal services for the public prisons.

It’s also worth carefully re-reading the text of the 13th amendment. The giant slavery loophole is as-intended. The Union lost the Civil War while it got to declare “Mission Accomplished” because Abraham Lincoln sold-out civil society. Slavery continues as corporations profit by exploiting cheap labor paid on average under $1/hour. Systematic disenfranchisement is profitable.


Your comment is incredibly hyperbolic. The Union won the civil war. Slavery in its most overwhelmingly common form was ended. Millions of black Americans were freed. Whatever his other faults and shortcomings, Lincoln presided over the sacrifice of many men’s lives to bring about that momentous change.

How is this constitutional?

13th Amendment

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.


I don't think failing to pay a debt is a "crime" under American law.

Edit: reading the article, these people have failed to pay the fines associated with criminal convictions.


People are regularly jailed for civil infractions such as traffic tickets, and failing to pay fines from such infractions.

They are also held on bail when they cannot afford to pay, this is before found guilty of any crime.


Traffic tickets in many states are criminal violations. Here in Maryland, for example, there are no civil infractions except for automated red light cameras. Even a normal speeding ticket is a misdemeanor criminal conviction.

A speeding ticket is a misdemeanor criminal conviction.

This beggars belief. Can you provide sources or citations. Quick googling finds no references to this absolutely implausible scenario.



Embezzlement

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[flagged]


People think pregnancy just .. happens?

Mississippi has an abstinence only sex education which is why it has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the nation. don’t teach about birth control methods people don’t use them.

I don't think they believe it "just happens", but they accept it/believe it's a natural and inevitable part of life and take it in stride if and when it happens.

It’s weird to live in a society where the assumption is that practically everybody is having/should be having sex. I abstain.

It’s what all animals do, why is it weird?

That's how the majority of humanity has come into existence.

I know, it’s one of the saddest aspects of existence in my opinion. I wish every child was planned for, had a job and housing lined up for them before birth. Instead we live in a random survival free-for-all. Sex is seen practically as a recreational activity, children as either unintentional accumulated byproducts or vague milestones of personal or economic achievement.

You can wish all you want, it doesn't change reality.

All changes start with a dream

Your dream is that people not have sex for fun and that poor people stop having children?

From what I understand there are a metric fuckton of people imprisoned for inability to pay child support, so I'd say debtor prisons aren't limited to Mississippi.

People in other states who are imprisoned for inability to pay child support, etc. are released at the end of a finite sentence; they are not held indefinitely until they pay off an ever-increasing debt to the state at a low wage job. That's what defines debtors prisons.

It’s disappointing to see factual comments like this downvoted

One is certainly more severe than the other, but in either case if people are getting imprisoned over debts, it seems like a pretty shitty situation. Do you disagree?

That's not what this article is about. It's about "How the state’s “restitution program” forces poor people to work off small debts."

The scandal is the mainstream press hasn't raised this and related problems in the justice system. They really only have one job, and no amount of "concern" for political issues is sufficient to compensate for the shameful oversight of issues like this.

I'd argue any writer with a Pulitzer should hand it back until they have personally effected change in justice and prison reform. I'm angry that the system works this way, but I'm even angrier that people who do nothing but write for a living get to do so without making this a national priority.


This is silly. The "mainstream press" is nothing more than a mirror. If there were widespread outrage about justice and prison reform, there would be much more coverage of it. There really just isn't much interest, and it's honestly as fervent on the pro-punishment side as the reform side (e.g. Jeff Sessions' disastrous but celebrated term as Attorney General in rolling back progress made at the Federal level: https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/jeff-sessions-is-trying...)

As with many other issues in the US, there’s a connection to wealth and race. Civil rights organizations have been talking about this for years with their pleas mostly falling on deaf ears. Some major media started covering it after looking into some of the larger reasons behind the protests in Ferguson, MO. There have been quite a few advocates in the “far-left” political spectrum like Bernie Sanders and some places have ended cash bail.

https://www.sanders.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/sande...

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/29/nyregion/kalief-browder-c...

https://www.npr.org/2018/08/28/642795284/california-becomes-...

https://www.npr.org/2018/09/02/644085158/what-changed-after-...

https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/jailed-f...

Similar to our newly found compassion for people struggling with drug addiction, this won’t be solved until we stop viewing those affected as “others”.

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/how-you-could-go-to-debtors-pri...

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/could-debtors-prison-make-a-com...

https://www.propublica.org/article/a-lawsuit-over-ferguson-d...

http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/Ferguson-sued-modern-day-debtors-...

https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/02/debtors...

https://www.npr.org/2014/05/21/313118629/supreme-court-rulin... - https://www.cbsnews.com/news/as-economy-flails-debtors-priso... - https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/08/magazine/cities-fine-poor...

It’s not true that’s it’s not been talked about, or even that it’s not covered by mainstream media. Many people are not paying attention and some mainstream media are actively against criminal justice reform.

https://www.foxnews.com/opinion/tucker-carlson-criminal-just...

It’s a political issue and a human rights issue, but politics is often reduced to sound bites with few taking the effort to really understand an issue and support those working to change it.

There are also unsurprising contradictions. The Trump administration signed legislation that addresses sentencing disparities in the war on drugs while simultaneously resuming federal death penalty executions even while its been widely reported that possibly more than 1 in 10 of those of death row are innocent.




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