Last summer, I posted on this blog about how some creditors and local jurisdictions were manipulating the judicial system to aid in the collection of outstanding accounts. The intent of the post was to dispel the notion that the concept of “Debtors’ Prisons” were returning to the United States (in as much as they had been abolished almost 180 years ago).
The Norwalk Reflector recently reported on an investigation by the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio of 11 Ohio counties which demonstrated evidence of resurgence in the use of “debtors’ prisons” very close to home here in Northern Ohio. The Reflector’s article reported that in Huron County, over a five month period, slightly over 20% of those being booked into the Huron County Jail in 2012 were jailed due to their failure to pay fines or court costs. Huron County was not alone in the practice. The Reflector reported seven of the eleven counties examined, including Erie, Richland, Sandusky and Cuyahoga, demonstrated practices of jailing people because they were too poor to pay their fines or court costs.
The study recently caught the eye of Jeff Gerritt, the Deputy Editorial page Editor of the Toledo Blade. He opined that Ohio courts should not bring back debtors’ prisons when defendants are unable to pay court costs. Gerritt reasoned that the practice of a “debtors’ prison” is “inhumane, discriminatory, and a waste of tax money.
The Blade and The Reflector both reported that Ohio Supreme Court Justice Maureen O’Connor has met with representatives of the ACLU and promises further review. In Norwalk, newly sworn in Judge Eric Weisenburger of the Norwalk Municipal Court promises a review of the Court’s past practices.
The concluding comments of Mr. Gerritt from The Blade say it best. He stated that “It’s not a crime in Ohio to be poor – at least not yet. People… don’t want sympathy or special treatment. They want Ohio courts to handle their cases in a legal and constitutional manner.” As Ohioans, we should expect no less.