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The history of Debtor’s Prison????

What Is a Debtor’s Prison

Early History

  • Debtors’ prisons were part of many ancient societies. The Roman Empire often imprisoned or enslaved individuals who owed large amounts of debt, while many medieval European nations would imprison or execute people who failed to pay off their debts. Bankrate, a financial information website, says the ancient Greeks imprisoned many debtors. In fact, so many ancient Greek farmers were imprisoned due to nonpayment of debts that Greece experienced a famine due to lack of available farmers to grow food.

Debtors’ Prisons in America

  • Debtors’ prisons were not unique to the Old World. Prior to the middle of the 19th Centuries, many debtors’ prisons existed in the United States, especially in the original 13 states. These jails, which were often run by county governments, housed hundreds of people for often small debts. Although debtors’ prisons mostly housed the impoverished, wealthy and influential people were not immune from debt confinement. Some of America’s early business pioneers such as Charles Goodyear, the founder of Goodyear Tires and Robert Morris, the financier of the American Revolution, spent time in debtors’ prisons.
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Abolition of Debtors Prisons

  • During the 1800s, many western nations abolished debtors prisons. In the United States, the federal government abolished debtors’ imprisonment in 1833, and most individual states got rid of the practice in the following years. By the end of the 20th Century, virtually all nations removed imprisonment as a punishment for nonpayment of debts. China and the United Arab Emirates are notable exceptions, keeping imprisonment as a possible sentence for debt as of December 2010.

Modern Times

  • Even though debtors’ prisons no longer exist in most developed countries, people may still find themselves behind bars for nonpayment of debts. According to a June 2010 article in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, several Minnesotans were arrested on charges of missing court appearances on unpaid credit card debt. Although, as of June 2010, Minnesota is one of the few states that allowed such a practice, many states imprison people for certain unpaid debts, including child support, alimony, fraud-related debt and taxes.

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