Debtors' Prisons Return To The U.S., ACLU Finds

Debtors' PrisonsHave you ever been stuck on the "jail" square in Monopoly, because you just couldn't pay the $50 to get out? That's not allowed in real life. Under the U.S. Constitution, you can't go to jail, or be kept in jail, just because you're unable to afford a fine.

But it still happens. The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio investigated 11 counties in the state and found debtors' prisons to be a live and well tradition in seven of them. For our Friday Lunchtime Live video series, AOL Jobs spoke with Mike Brickner, one of the lead ACLU investigators, to find out the extent of the problem, and what people can do if they find themselves under arrest for a debt they can't pay.

"Everyone had been incarcerated multiple times," Brickner says about the people who had been through this system, "and everyone in these communities knew someone who had been affected."

The ACLU estimates that possibly thousands of poor Americans in Ohio alone have been thrown into jail for not paying debts, causing them to lose their jobs and more. When money is particularly tight, John Bundren, one of the individuals interviewed by the ACLU, will pay the fine of Samantha Reed, the mother of his child, (pictured above) instead of his own, so that she can stay home with their infant.

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What often happens, Brickner explains, is that a person can't afford car insurance, but needs to drive, so ends up getting their license suspended. They still need to drive -- to a job, for example -- so end up getting a $300 fine. Unable to pay, the person receives a bench warrant, which costs $400, then is kept in jail for 10 days, at $55 a night.

That's $950 of costs for a $300 fine. "It's not just an illegal policy; it's a stupid policy," Brickner says.

"The sad thing is that we really think these seven courts we found are just the tip of the iceberg," he adds. "That there are many, many, many courts around the state that are doing this."

Watch the highlights reel below and the full video here. And if you have had an experience with a debtors' prison, or know someone who has, the ACLU of Ohio invites you to visit its website here to tell your story.

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