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High Stakes for Overdue Borrowers: Are Debtors Prisons Coming Back?

Debtor's prisons were abolished in the U.S. long ago, but recent law enforcement trends involve locking up borrowers who fail to respond to judgment notices.


2010-08-13
August 13, 2010 (Press-News.org) Overwhelming debt puts plenty of pressure on borrowers who must endure constant creditor harassment while they choose which obligations to face during difficult financial times. But that is a minor nuisance compared to spending a night or two in jail. The practice of locking up debtors who fail to respond to legal notices is not practiced everywhere, but reports from communities across the country reveal that debt collection companies have enlisted local authorities to use the full force of the law in enforcing warrants for even minor debt.

Formal debtor's prisons were abolished in most U.S. states before the Civil War, following a ban on Federal imprisonment in 1833. And in the current rash of cases, debtors are not actually being imprisoned for failing to pay a debt -- they are subject to arrest warrants for contempt of court after failing to respond to a legal notice. But to a parent handcuffed in front of his or her children, or an employee who missed a day of work because they were apprehended during a traffic stop, the inconvenience and shame can be substantial. Worse yet, they may have spend a night in jail in an orange jumpsuit, locked up with violent criminals.

This can happen despite the fact that debt buyers -- private companies that purchase old debts from cell phone and credit card companies and other lenders -- may not have the proper paperwork, or the subject of the warrant may not have received proper notice. If a debt holder sues for repayment and receives a default judgment, a local sheriff or police department may be locally empowered to execute the judgment, arrest the debtor for contempt and require bail in the amount of the entire debt.

Take Action Early to Protect Your Liberty and Peace of Mind

If you learn that you are being sued for any type of debt, make sure to respond even if you don't recognize the obligation. Mary Spector, a law professor at Southern Methodist University's Dedman School of Law in Texas, recently told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that many who receive formal notice "think it's a mistake. They may think it's a scam. They may not realize how important it is to respond."

Borrowers often fail to recognize or acknowledge a debt collector that may have purchased an old debt for pennies or nickels on the dollar. They may feel that it's within their rights to ignore the notice, or believe that they won't be arrested for a civil (non-criminal) legal matter. These are misperceptions that have serious repercussions.

Responding to debtor advocacy groups, some states have abolished the practice of using jail to enforce debts, but the soundest strategy is to be proactive about looming financial crises. An experienced bankruptcy attorney can advise you about a wide range of debt relief options and help you decide on the best way to take control of your financial future.

Article provided by Rosenbaum Law Offices
Visit us at www.rosenbaum-law.com

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[Press-News.org] High Stakes for Overdue Borrowers: Are Debtors Prisons Coming Back?
Debtor's prisons were abolished in the U.S. long ago, but recent law enforcement trends involve locking up borrowers who fail to respond to judgment notices.
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