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Outskirts of Hope: How Ohio's Debtors' Prisons Are Ruining Lives and Costing Communities

NCJ Number
Date Published
April 2013
24 pages
This report documents how contemporary "debtors' prisons" work in Ohio and profiles some of the people who have been impacted by this system.
In 2013, Ohioans are jailed for being too poor to pay fines. The U.S. Constitution, the Ohio Constitution, and the 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. Jailing a person who is financially unable to pay a fine violates the law. Yet municipal courts and mayors' courts across Ohio continue this practice. In doing so, they are not only violating the law, they are wasting tax dollars by arresting and incarcerating people at a cost that exceeds the fine amount. In addition, the practice is ineffective in achieving its goal, i.e., to collect unpaid fines, since those being jailed are too poor to pay their fine. This report presents the case histories of Ohioans who have lost their jobs, their homes, their health, and time spent with their young children, all as a direct result of being jailed because they cannot afford to pay court-imposed fines. This report recommends that the Ohio Supreme Court promulgate clear rules that will end debtors' prisons in Ohio and hold accountable any court that continues to flout the law. As part of the Supreme Court's guidelines, it should require that when jail time is an issue in the failure to pay a fine, the court must hold the legally required hearing that will determine whether the defendant has the financial resources to pay the fine, but is willfully refusing to do so. Even in such cases, the court must credit $50 toward payment of the fine per day of incarceration. 24 references