ACLU Report Spotlights Individuals Being Jailed For Unpaid Civil Debts

Judges approved more than 8,500 arrest warrants in three states and four counties in 2016 for unpaid debts, according to a report issued yesterday by the American Civil Liberties Union detailing an “unholy” partnership between the debt collection industry and the court system, according to the report’s author.

The warrants are being issued for unpaid court fines or missed installment payments on other court-related fees, in most cases. The report cites several cases where individuals were also jailed for unpaid civil debts, such as car loans.

While imprisonment for unpaid civil debts is prohibited, but in 44 states, local judges are authorized to issue arrest warrants for debtors who fail to make post-judgment appearances in court or fail to provide information about their finances.

There have been more than a few cases of individuals being arrested and jailed because of unpaid debts. And for the ARM industry, it is unfortunate because those cases usually make great news stories and paint the industry in a bad light. But, as ACA International likes to point out, the number of instances represent an incredibly small percentage of the total number of interactions between debt collectors and individuals. The overwhelming number of interactions are handled professionally and without anyone ending up in handcuffs.

In the report, the ACLU is recommending that state legislatures bar local courts from issuing arrest warrants in debt-collection cases and called for federal legislation to enact a similar prohibition.


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