https://www.aclu.org/issues/mass-incarc ... ivate-debt
There are a lot of "due process" issues here.
People are being arrested because they did not attend mandatory court collection hearings, even though they never received notice that there was going to be a hearing. Probably a letter was just sent out to their last known address and they were no longer living there.
A lot of these people who owe money are lower income and live in apartments and have to move frequently. Have you ever lived at an apartment and opened the mail box? There will be mail addressed to 5 other people in your box, people who used to live there years ago. Some of this is pretty important mail too. Letters from banks with the financial details of bank accounts. Pre-approved credit cards in someone else's name that all you have to do is call a number to activate. I remember seeing a court summons letter in someone else's name once. There was nothing I could do except write "Does not live here any longer, Return to sender" on the envelope and put it back in the outgoing mail box.
Being required to attend all these collection hearings can be a punishment unto itself. Again, many of these debtors are poor and have trouble arranging the transportation to get to the court on time. It could take 3 or 4 different bus transfers, and if one of the buses don't show up on schedule that could set you back an hour. It could end up taking the entire day to get to the court hearing and back. In some cases, needing to take a day off could even mean being fired from their minimum wage job. These collection agencies will try to drag the debtors into court hearings as often as possible, to try to make it as unpleasant as possible until the debtor pays up.
Here's an excerpt from the report:
The abuse of civil contempt proceedings to extract payments from debtors violates centuries-old federal and state laws prohibiting incarceration for debt. Although courts ostensibly issue arrest warrants to compel alleged debtors to appear in court or comply with a court order to provide financial information, in practice debt collectors request arrest warrants to use them as leverage in debt collection. Creditors and debt collectors are keenly aware that they are most likely to receive payments from debtors when they are under threat of arrest or incarcerated. Courses and articles on the practice of debt collection law even advise lawyers that arrest warrants are an effective way to extract payment. One such article advised, “Body attachments are usually rather effective, as most debtors do not like to be imprisoned and suddenly find funds for bonds.”
While in some cases debtors may cure their contempt by appearing in court and providing the requested financial information, more often debtors may secure their release from jail or have their warrant quashed only if they pay their debt, either in full or a bond amount that satisfies a portion of their debt. This direct connection substantively transforms contempt for failure to comply with a court order into contempt for failure to pay, in violation of state and federal laws prohibiting debtors’ prisons.
As Alan White, a consumer law professor at CUNY School of Law, described it, “If, in effect, people are being incarcerated until they pay bail, and bail is being used to pay their debts, then they’re being incarcerated to pay their debts.” Contempt proceedings become purely pretextual, explained Lisa Madigan, Attorney General of Illinois; if that “gives the lawyers the ability to say [debtors] aren’t being thrown in debtors’ prison, they’re being thrown into prison for contempt of court. To me, that’s disingenuous.”
An Idaho bankruptcy court recognized this reality, concluding that a collection company that sought, drafted, and obtained a bench warrant for a debtor’s failure to turn over tax returns had plainly done so as a tactic to extract payment. In that case the arrest warrant required the debtor to post a bail set at the exact amount of the judgment, payable only in cash and to be handed over to the debt collector. The court ruled:
There was a time in America when debtors were jailed for not paying their debts. In reviewing the facts of this case, it appears perhaps that time has not passed… It is clear that Creditor’s efforts to get Debtor put behind bars were calculated to enforce a money judgment, pursue a “collection motive,” [and] to harass Debtor…. The Court was distraught to learn that, even today, a creditor can persuade a state court to incarcerate a debtor to compel payment of a debt…. The facts show that Creditor initiated the contempt proceedings in state court not to secure the financial information Debtor was ordered to provide, but to coerce him into paying Creditor’s judgment.
In practice, there are several indicators when this use of contempt turns into unlawful imprisonment for debt. First, the bail attached to arrest warrants is often for the alleged amount owed to the creditor. Instead of performing an independent analysis to determine the amount of bail required to ensure compliance with court-ordered proceedings and the debtor’s ability to pay that amount, many courts simply require payment of the full judgment owed. Second, the bonds paid by debtors to get out of jail are often transferred directly to the creditor. While many courts transfer bonds to creditors as a matter of custom, some state laws explicitly require these bonds to be turned over to creditors. Third, the contempt of court finding is often dropped once the creditor receives the bond or if the debtor settles with the creditor.
In numerous cases it appears debtors are being held in prison in violation of the guidelines of the law:
Julius Zimmerman was jailed for six days in 2011 in solitary confinement in Dakota County, Minnesota, on a civil warrant obtained by a debt collector. He had filed for bankruptcy and the jailing violated the mandatory stay. The debt was owed to American Family Insurance Group after he was involved in a car accident. Police officers arrested Zimmerman at his home while he was babysitting his girlfriend’s children. They completed booking at 1 a.m. on a Friday, and the earliest he could be brought to court was Monday. He says he told the police officers and jail staff that because of his bankruptcy filing, no action could be taken to collect the underlying debt. He didn’t have access to a phone for several days and was unable to contact his attorney during that time. He says he suffered fear, humiliation, and embarrassment as a result of his arrest and incarceration. Zimmerman sued the sheriff and 10 jail deputies, alleging they had violated the automatic stay triggered by the bankruptcy filing, but the court ruled it lacked jurisdiction to consider his claim.
A few examples of those who were arrested:
A Kansas woman with bipolar disorder who said she was arrested while in the throes of an episode and had to walk miles to get home when she was released.
An Illinois truck driver was fired from his job for missing work while jailed for six days because he could not afford the $31,500 bond set at the amount he owed to a bank for equipment financing. An Indiana woman was fired by her employer after she was arrested at work.
One single mother was arrested at her Pennsylvania home in the early morning hours while her son, a minor, slept. Despite her pleas, the police did not allow her to tell her son what was happening to her.
One Indiana woman, a mother of three, was jailed for missing hearings over medical bills for her cancer treatment. She was physically unable to climb the stairs to the women’s section of the jail, so she was held in a men’s mental health unit with glass walls that exposed her to the male prisoners, even when she used the toilet. She says she was denied medicine and feminine hygiene products, and exposed to lewd and “trauma-inducing” behavior, including one man who wiped his feces on the wall of their shared cell.
An 83-year-old man and his 78-year-old wife were jailed for failing to appear at a post-judgment hearing in Maryland, despite being out of the country at the time of the alleged notice. A private process server agency told the court that they had been given notice, but for some reason had wrongly described the elderly couple as a 41-year-old man and his 28-year-old roommate.
full downloadable report here: https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/file ... df#page=24