Debtors’ prisons might sound like something out of a Dickens novel, but what most Americans do not realize is that they are alive and well in a new and startling form. Today more than 20 percent of the prison population is incarcerated for financial reasons such as failing to pay a fine. This alarming trend not only affects the poor, who are hit particularly hard, but also ensnares the millions of self-identified middle-class people who are struggling to make ends meet.
All across the country people are being fined and even imprisoned for offenses as small as delinquency on student debt or an unpaid parking ticket. However, there is an insidious undercurrent to these practices that the average person might not realize. Many counties depend on a steady supply of citizens to pay fines and court costs in order to make their budgets. Minor vehicle infractions, by design, can rack up hundreds of dollars in charges that go straight to the city’s coffers. Combine this with the fact that many middle-class people cannot handle an unexpected $400 expense and the general lack of awareness about the risk for being repeatedly jailed for failure to pay court costs, probation, and even per day charges for being in jail and you get an endless cycle of men and women either in debt or in prison for debt.
While shocking to some, this system makes up today’s debtors’ prisons. In The New Debtors’ Prison, Christopher Maselli draws from his personal knowledge of the criminal justice system based on his experience on both sides of the prison walls as an attorney as well as a former inmate, to take a hard look at our modern prison system that systematically targets the poor and vulnerable of our society in order to fund the prison-industrial complex.