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Debtors Prison: Breast Cancer Survivor Jailed Over $280 Bill

Illinois lawmakers looking to put a stop to the practice

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Debtors Prison: Breast Cancer Survivor Jailed Over $280 Bill
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Debtors prisons haven’t been around for a long time, but apparently they’re on the verge of making a comeback. The unfortunate souls who are having a very hard time making ends meet in this turbulent economy now have something to add to their growing collection of concerns. If debt collectors have anything to say about the situation, individuals who can’t pay their bills in a timely manner may find themselves spending a bit of time behind bars. Although it may sound pretty absurd, this isn’t the premise for some far-reaching science fiction novel for young adults.

Just ask Lisa Lindsay, the breast cancer survivor who found herself jailed for an unpaid medical bill. It’s also worth noting that the bill wasn’t even hers in the first place. The Herren, Illinois resident was sent the $280 bill completely by accident, though nobody on the other end made the proper adjustments to correct the error. Eventually the unpaid note was sent to a collection agency, and before she knew what, exactly, was going down, Lindsay found herself being handcuffed and hauled off by state troopers.

The cost of settling this issue: $600. “I paid it in full so they couldn’t do it to me again,” Lindsay explained.

Unfortunately, this isn’t an isolated issue. Scenarios similar to the one described above have been popping up all over the country recently, despite the fact that the US abolished debtors prisons back in the 1830′s. According to the Wall Street Journal, more than a third of US states allow people to be tossed in jail for not paying their bills in a timely fashion. However, some lawmakers are attempting to stop collectors from abusing the system in such a nefarious manner.

Don’t get too worked up: Debt collectors can’t just toss you in jail for simply not paying the money you owe. What puts you in hot water is being in “contempt of court”, which means you’ve willfully ignored requests for you to show up and explain why you’ve decided to skip out on your scheduled payments.

Steps are currently being taken to make sure this sort of thing doesn’t happen again. In order to stop collectors from using loopholes and false documentation to send people to jail, states are passing laws to prevent people in dire financial trouble from spending time behind bars. An Illinois bill, for example, would require court notices to be delivered directly to the individual’s home before such drastic measures can be taken. Right now, collectors are only required to send notices through the mail.

What do you think about the situation? Should debt collectors be allowed to toss folks in jail for not paying bills, or is this an extreme consequence for committing a crime that most people in this economy simply cannot avoid? Should we clog our judicial system with people who are being punished for being poor? Place your thoughts in the comments section.

Debtors Prison: Breast Cancer Survivor Jailed Over $280 Bill
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  • Ruth

    Aren’t the prisons full enough already. Get serious.

  • Aaron

    My pastor preached on this 2 years ago warning we should live the debt free lifestyle and that the debtors prisons were coming back. I have been doing this for 10 years now. But the thought of a person truly haveing financial issue due to a loss of job or income is obserd to just throw them in jail. It will cost the tax payers more money to jail them than it would to write off the debt. What a bunch of morons.

  • splashy

    If you are in jail, how will you pay the bill? This is just silly.

  • Mark

    If she didn’t owe them any money then she was stupid to pay them any but she was most likely shell-shocked & just wanted to get out of jail. How do you know that she wasn’t set up just to see if they could get away with it? They were successful in their evil deed so now they will try it again. It usually costs much more to keep debtors in jail then what they owe so how smart is that? With many of the state prison systems being sold to private corporations they will be looking to have them filled to 90% capacity so look for more people being put in prison for very minor offenses.

  • S K

    She did not respect the court summons to show up to court. Anyone not showing up when they are required to do so can be arrested.

    “Well she should not be required to show up to court over a debt” In this case she shouldn’t have as it was an error, but any other time a person should. If you were owed money and required court enforcement such as a wage garnishment of the person you loaned the money, how would it not be fair?

    In the end, you have to respect the courts and the authority they have to require the appearance of a person.

  • cari lyn

    “Should debt collectors be allowed to toss folks in jail for not paying bills?” Only IF and WHEN the politicians and public service personnel of the states allowing this action, are tossed in jail for their lack of payment of bills, bounced checks, child support and such.