Probation and the Reinstitution of Debtors' Prison

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Jan 22, 2019 | 0 Comments

From the late 1600s to the early 1800s, many United States cities operated what is known as “debtors' prisons.” These facilities were designed with the sole intention of jailing negligent monetary borrowers - some of whom owed incredibly measly amounts of money. As the years progressed, debt among Americans increased, causing many to deem the law the law as absurdly outdated. So, in 1833, Congress rules these practices as unconstitutional.

Although these prisons have been technically abolished, the practice of incarcerating people for their inability to pay fines hasn't necessarily gone away. In fact, The Department of Justice has had to reaffirm this said ruling several times since, sending letters to every court in the nation as a reminder.

A Dauphin County, PA offender is a testament to the prominence of debtors' prisons today. He, who remains anonymous, got a call from his probation officer that he had missed a couple of payments in the last six months and that he is in danger of violating probation.

Most people may not be aware that incarceration is just one of various legal penalties offenders endure. After serving their time, ex-cons are slapped with huge bills compiled of mounting expenses - court costs, transportation, sheriffs costs, booking fees - the list goes on and on. This man owed Dauphin County about $2,300, while his overall fees totaled to approximately $13,000 altogether.

These fines are considered to be a much more insidious punishment than incarceration to some, especially considering the circumstances surrounding them. The existence of a conviction itself already severely limits job opportunities. And when they do find a job that will hire them, they get paid minimum wage or close to it, which isn't nearly enough money needed to support themselves, let alone a family or other obligations.

But this doesn't matter to the county; they want their money and they want it on time. And when these requirements aren't met, offenders face a warrant for their arrest and re-incarceration. The court even extends probation time until all the fines are paid, which means that one could go back to jail several times for unpaid debts.

Jailing people for not being able to afford county expenses is counterproductive and a nightmare for ex-cons who truly want to move on.

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Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately fights for the futures of his clients in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania as well as in New Jersey and nationwide. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. With unparalleled experience occupying several roles in the criminal justice system outside of being an attorney, Joseph D. Lento can give you valuable behind-the-scenes insight as to what is happening during all phases of the legal process. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!


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