ACLU Uncovers Illegal Debtors’ Prisons Across Ohio

debtors' prison

Despite being blatantly unconstitutional, citizens are commonly being jailed for their inability to pay tickets and fines, wreaking havoc on people’s lives (and costing the state far greater sums than the unpaid tickets), ACLU Ohio reveals:

The resurgence of contemporary debtors’ prisons sits squarely at this intersection of poverty and criminal justice. In towns across the state, thousands of people face the looming specter of incarceration every day, simply because they are poor.

For Ohio’s poor and working poor, an unaffordable traffic ticket or fine is just the beginning of a protracted process that may involve contempt charges, mounting fees, arrest warrants, and even jail time. The stark reality is that, in 2013, Ohioans are being repeatedly jailed simply for being too poor to pay fines.

The U.S. Constitution, the Ohio Constitution, and Ohio Revised Code all prohibit debtors’ prisons. The law requires that, before jailing anyone for unpaid fines, courts must determine whether an individual is too poor to pay.

Despite clear constitutional and legislative prohibitions, debtors’ prison practices are alive
and well throughout Ohio. An investigation by the ACLU of Ohio uncovered conclusive evidence
of these practices in 7 of the 11 Ohio counties examined. Courts in Huron, Cuyahoga, and Erie counties are among the worst offenders. In the second half of 2012, over 20% of all bookings in the Huron County Jail were related to failure to pay fines. There is no evidence that any of these people were given hearings to determine whether or not they were financially able to pay their fines, as required by the law.

15 Comments on "ACLU Uncovers Illegal Debtors’ Prisons Across Ohio"

  1. emperorreagan | Apr 25, 2013 at 10:01 am |


    States are signing contracts that guarantee occupancy rates (Ohio is one of the first states I remember seeing mentioned in that regard). How, exactly, that may play into a court’s decision to just throw people in jail would be speculation on my part.

    One would also wonder about possible kickbacks to local & state government officials, sitting judges having portfolios that include interests in private prison contractors, etc.

    • Anarchy Pony | Apr 25, 2013 at 11:28 am |

      Why do you hate states’ rights to guarantee corporations a steady stream of prisoners from which they can profit? Are you a socialist or something?

      • emperorreagan | Apr 25, 2013 at 1:45 pm |

        I’m just pissed that I can’t sell my business plan to make everyone a criminal at birth, unless their parents can afford to pay the citizenship registration fee.

        If you can’t pay, it’s the labor camps for your whole family.

        • Calypso_1 | Apr 25, 2013 at 2:10 pm |

          peccatum originale

        • Calypso_1 | Apr 25, 2013 at 6:13 pm |

          I think you should expand on this idea to criminality at conception. Obviously the fetus aspires by it’s very existence to deprive the mother of rights over her own body. At the very least we should mutilate genitalia at birth to show them who’s boss. Then you can sell the tissue to the highest bidder.

  2. Thad McKraken | Apr 25, 2013 at 11:50 am |

    Fucking Ohio. It’s funny, when I was 22, I literally moved out of there to the west coast primarily because of the weather (I hated the heat and humidity of the summers). Plus my family moved back to the Pacific Northwest while I was in college.

    At the time I wasn’t thinking about the political situation there. It’s only because I got arrested that I know this, and maybe it’s changed, but when I was there, they passed a law which was tacked onto a highway funds bill. Basically, if you were caught with any amount of marijuana, ANY AMOUNT, even a joint, it was an automatic 6 month license suspension. No questions asked. I had friends with 3 DUI’s that still had driving privileges. Un-fucking-believable.

  3. LeopoldMcCrazypants | Apr 25, 2013 at 2:09 pm |

    I remember losing my license and having to sell my truck because of a traffic ticket I got here in oregon. When I tried explaining that I had no way to pay the fine, even with the payment plan I had set up, they showed no sympathy. It is far worse that people lose their lives to incarceration due to their poverty. That is simply sickening.

  4. Robert Clark | Apr 25, 2013 at 3:43 pm |

    This is a catch 22 of significant proportions. It is disturbing to have the indigent and poor jailed for the inability to pay a mandated fine, BUT I am at a loss for what the option may be. Telling the poor that they are not subject to a mandated fine due to their financial hardship would, in a sense, remove the ability to punish petty crimes (speeding, loitering, etc). Once you are given the free pass, would it invite continued acts merely because there are no consequences? That I cannot answer.

  5. That’s going on all over the USA. Remember “three strikes” laws? Not about public safety, about growing the “prison-industrial complex” (google on that) – how can free people compete with tax-subsidized prison labor?

    The transition to prison labor can be compared with the transition to slave labor in the Roman Empire (military campaigns became as much about getting slaves as getting access to natural resources), with similar consequences for long-term social stability.

    You may have noticed that in the media, complaints about Chinese prison labor practices have largely disappeared.

  6. James Crafford | Jul 9, 2013 at 7:55 am |


  7. Practically the whole system is a a SCAM now thanks to the World Criminal Banker Cartel & TRAITORS in “government” harming our nation !

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