Have debts? Go to jail

(10AM EST – promoted by Nightprowlkitty)

Although no crime was committed, Minnesotans and other people across America are being locked up because they owe money to some corporation. This is another example of our emerging corporatocracy ? Where the power of the state is just another tool for business.

The Star Tribune has published an investigative piece about the return of debtors’ prisons, “In jail for being in debt“.

It’s not a crime to owe money, and debtors’ prisons were abolished in the United States in the 19th century. But people are routinely being thrown in jail for failing to pay debts. In Minnesota, which has some of the most creditor-friendly laws in the country, the use of arrest warrants against debtors has jumped 60 percent over the past four years, with 845 cases in 2009, a Star Tribune analysis of state court data has found.

Here is what is happening now to people who fall behind in paying their bills. Joy Uhlmeyer, for example, is a 57-year-old patient care advocate. She was arrested by a sheriff’s deputy and no one would tell her why, despite her pleas.

Uhlmeyer spent a sleepless night in a frigid Anoka County holding cell, her hands tucked under her armpits for warmth. Then, handcuffed in a squad car, she was taken to downtown Minneapolis for booking. Finally, after 16 hours in limbo, jail officials fingerprinted Uhlmeyer and explained her offense — missing a court hearing over an unpaid debt.

“They have no right to do this to me… Not for a stupid credit card.”

Uhlmeyer ‘crime?’ She “defaulted on a $6,200 Chase credit card after a costly divorce in 2006.” She ignored the collection agency because she “didn’t recognize the name”.

This happens to people with debts. Their delinquent accounts are bought by large, aggressive collection agencies, sometimes even multiple times. People are contacted by different agencies over the same debt and can get confused or mistake it for a scam. If she had addressed the demands, she could have applied to the courts to have the statutory demand set aside and most likely avoided jail.

“It’s just one more blow for people who are already struggling,” said Beverly Yang, a Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation staff attorney who has represented three Illinois debtors arrested in the past two months. “They don’t like being in court. They don’t have cars. And if they had money to pay these collectors, they would.” Luckily there are loan companies that try their best to provide help to those who have found themselves in debt, such as these NZ Loans helping to give those who have found themselves in financial difficulty some reprieve until they can get back on their feet. However, this seems to be an issue with the system rather than loan companies.

Minnesotans are being held up to 48 hours in cells with criminals because of the have unpaid debts. Across the United States, such debtor arrests are increasing. Consumer attorneys say this is happening in Arkansas, Arizona, and Washington as well. “In Illinois and southwest Indiana, some judges jail debtors for missing court-ordered debt payments. In extreme cases, people stay in jail until they raise a minimum payment.”

What happens depends where a person with debts live. It varies from state to state, county to county. No one is keeping records of how many people are being imprisoned because of debts.

“The law enforcement system has unwittingly become a tool of the debt collectors,” said Michael Kinkley, an attorney in Spokane, Wash., who has represented arrested debtors. “The debt collectors are abusing the system and intimidating people, and law enforcement is going along with it.”

Corporations love using the law to collect, because people sometimes ignore the phone calls and letters threatening legal action from debt collectors. Plus, when corporations get the government to collect the debt, then taxpayers are paying the bill for the arrest and jailing.

Minnesota judges are issuing “arrest warrants for people who owe as little as $85 ? less than half the cost of housing an inmate overnight.” After a person’s arrest, they will get a second surprise: “their bail is exactly the amount of money owed.” When you think about this, this makes sense as you’re just putting forward the money that you should have paid anyway. Whether you can use a reputable online bail bonds service to help post bail, or the amount of debt that needs owing is yet unknown though. In Hennepin County, home to Minneapolis, bail is “automatically” set at the “judgment amount or $2,500, whichever is less.”

Judge Robert Blaeser, chief of the county court’s civil division, said linking bail to debt streamlines the process because judges needn’t spend time setting bail.

“It’s arbitrary,” he conceded. “The bigger question is: Should you be allowed to get an order from a court for someone to be arrested because they owe money? You’ve got to remember there are people who have the money but just won’t pay a single penny.”

Then again, especially in these harsh economic times with high unemployment and huge medical debts, there are people who are flat broke too. With an array of different forms of debt that can harm people’s finances, it can be hard to know what to do next. For what it’s worth, many people look to find help from debtconsolidationnearme.com, a company that helps people solidify all of their outstanding debts into one whole sum. This can help to simplify the debt process and make repayment much easier.

Deborah Poplawski is a 37-year-old restaurant cook. Last spring she was arrested by a Minneapolis police officer while she was feeding coins into a downtown parking meter. She spent nearly 25 hours in jail for a $250 credit card debt, which “thanks to interest fees”, ballooned into $1,138.

“We hear every day about how there’s no money for public services,” Poplawski said. “But it seems like the collectors have found a way to get the police to do their work.”

Welcome to the new United States of America. Government of the corporation, by the corporation, for the corporation. Is that clear, citizen consumer?

8 comments

Skip to comment form

  1. come across as a scam, at least in my experience. When I was a youngster, I moved out of my first apartment and didn’t know enough to give a new address to the phone company. I just canceled my service and they didn’t ask why. Then two years later this company I had never heard of or did business with was trying to shake me down for about $30.

    I had even gotten new phone service from the same phone company and they never put 2+2 together and send me a bill that I owed. Even mistakes can lead to aggressive hassles from collection agencies. Bastards the lot of ’em.

  2. Wondering when the Elizabethan poor houses, orphanages and press gangs will start up.  

    Cant wait, as my eyesight slowly fades to black I think of the day when my boss wont be able to justify keeping me on and I have to face the 14k worth of credit card bills Im slowly paying down, being thrown out of my home thats part of my compensation from work I wonder what’ll happen.  Jail for a blind man for debts he cant ever pay  Happy Happy Joy Joy.

  3.  can I have some more?

    Might as well just band you head on the wall a few hundred more times. I see no one coming to the citizen’s rescue anytime soon. The Supremes made it official; Corporations are citizens, and their money makes them alot more equal.

    • k9disc on June 10, 2010 at 11:00 pm

    I don’t believe that.

    We’ll have corporate sponsored law enforcement and corporate sponsored fire and EMS services in no time…

    Terrible…

  4. …posting here again Mag.  I learn much from your fine work.  Thanks.

  5. http://www.thebostonchannel.co

Comments have been disabled.