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Debtors’ Prisons May Still Exist in Minnesota and Around the Country

Posted on Jun 05, 2012

An Illinois woman was reportedly handcuffed and taken to jail by state troopers over an unpaid and disputed $280 medical bill. In the early part of the 19th century, people who couldn’t pay their debts in the United States could be sent to prison. Debtors’ prisons were abolished by the United States government in 1833, however, and most states quickly followed suit.


Illinois law reportedly has a loophole that permits debtors to be arrested for failing to respond to court hearings, pay legal fines, or showing contempt of court and not, technically, for failing to pay their debts. In March 2012 the Illinois House of Representatives passed a bill that would close the loopholes and prohibit debtors from being imprisoned. The bill is currently before the Illinois Senate.


The Minnesota constitution expressly prohibits the jailing of people because of unpaid debts. However, Minnesota law, like the law in Illinois and four other states, does allow debt collectors to seek arrest warrants for debtors if all other collection methods have failed. An individual may be taken into custody and be required to submit financial documentation to the court. In some cases a person may be held indefinitely until a payment plan is worked out or a debt is paid in full.


Some groups, such as the ACLU, believe that states are continuing to imprison people for unpaid debts without using the term debtors’ prisons. Our Minnesota debt relief lawyers encourage people who are in debt to get help before the situation becomes more serious.

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