The ACLU has exposed the use of “debtors’ prisons” in Ohio. Incarceration for debt was ruled unconstitutional in the 1830’s, but research reveals that at least seven counties in Ohio continue to jail debtors.
The ACLU contends that debtors’ prisons violate the constitution and Ohio law. Historical measures made it illegal to jail debtors who are unable to pay court imposed fines and costs. Additionally, the law states that defendants must be provided with a hearing to determine their financial status.
The report, titled “The Outskirts of Hope,” details how numerous counties across Ohio have continued the practice, which they assert is “ruining lives and costing communities.” The report reveals that among all counties researched, Huron, Cuyahoga, and Erie County jailed the most debtors.
In the second half of 2012, the ACLU reportedly found that Erie County courts jailed at least 75 people for owing fines. In Huron County, researchers discovered that at least 20 percent of those incarcerated were due to unpaid and overdue fines and costs. Cuyahoga County reportedly jailed at least 45 people who owed them money. The ACLU reports that a majority of those sent to “debtors‘ prison” in Ohio were never given a hearing to determine their financial status.
As reported by CBS News, the practice fails to distinguish between those able but unwilling to pay debt, and those who are simply unable. Those who are unable to pay have been arrested and incarcerated. This has only contributed to the problem as debtors may lose their job, eliminating their only source of income.
The ACLU argues that the practice is not only unconstitutional, it is costly in a struggling economy. In many cases the research found that the cost of executing a warrant outweighed the fines and costs owed by the debtor.
The ACLU has exposed debtors’ prisons in Ohio as an effort to preserve the rights of debtors statewide who do not have the means to pay fines and court costs imposed by Ohio courts.