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Going to Jail For DEBT: The New Age of Collections in America

17 Jun

In this enlightening piece we learn that consumers across the country are now being picked up on Arrest Warrants on complaints filed by Collection Agencies and Going to Jail for such offenses as an old overdue JC Penney debt of $250.00

Is this just a strange fluke in the system, or a sign of more heinous times to come? That’s not something we can presume to know, but on the other hand, how many Ameicans would believe that they could go to jail for an old credit card debt? Our guess is most would not believe you if you suggested such a thing…

In jail for being in debt

You committed no crime, but an officer is knocking on your door. More Minnesotans are surprised to find themselves being locked up over debts.

By CHRIS SERRES and GLENN HOWATT , Star Tribune staff writers

Last update: June 9, 2010 – 7:58 AM

As a sheriff’s deputy dumped the contents of Joy Uhlmeyer’s purse into a sealed bag, she begged to know why she had just been arrested while driving home to Richfield after an Easter visit with her elderly mother.

No one had an answer. Uhlmeyer spent a sleepless night in a frigid Anoka County holding cell, her hands tucked under her armpits for warmth. Then, handcuffed in a squad car, she was taken to downtown Minneapolis for booking. Finally, after 16 hours in limbo, jail officials fingerprinted Uhlmeyer and explained her offense — missing a court hearing over an unpaid debt. “They have no right to do this to me,” said the 57-year-old patient care advocate, her voice as soft as a whisper. “Not for a stupid credit card.”

It’s not a crime to owe money, and debtors’ prisons were abolished in the United States in the 19th century. But people are routinely being thrown in jail for failing to pay debts. In Minnesota, which has some of the most creditor-friendly laws in the country, the use of arrest warrants against debtors has jumped 60 percent over the past four years, with 845 cases in 2009, a Star Tribune analysis of state court data has found.

Not every warrant results in an arrest, but in Minnesota many debtors spend up to 48 hours in cells with criminals. Consumer attorneys say such arrests are increasing in many states, including Arkansas, Arizona and Washington, driven by a bad economy, high consumer debt and a growing industry that buys bad debts and employs every means available to collect.

Whether a debtor is locked up depends largely on where the person lives, because enforcement is inconsistent from state to state, and even county to county.

In Illinois and southwest Indiana, some judges jail debtors for missing court-ordered debt payments. In extreme cases, people stay in jail until they raise a minimum payment. In January, a judge sentenced a Kenney, Ill., man “to indefinite incarceration” until he came up with $300 toward a lumber yard debt.

 
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