Debtors prisons might have gone the way of medical leeching and boneshaker bikes, but that doesn’t mean consumers in some states can’t end up in the clink if they fall behind on their bills.
Today, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports on what appears to be the rising number of arrests of debtors who have been thrown behind bars for missing court-ordered debt payments or for not appearing in court after being sued by debt collectors.
The startling story reveals how debt-related arrest warrants in Minnesota have jumped 60 percent in the last four years, with 845 cases last year. That’s not a large segment of the state’s total arrests, but that doesn’t offer much comfort to those consumers who have been hauled into jail for court offenses stemming from debts as small as $250.
Some responsible, on-time bill payers might not be overly sympathetic to the jailed debtors’ plights, but they should keep this in mind: Often, the expense of arresting and jailing the consumers exceeds the amount owed. And that price tag, of course, is picked up by the taxpayers.
The laws allowing for the arrest of someone for an unpaid debt are not new.
What is new is the rise of well-funded, aggressive and centralized collection firms, in many cases run by attorneys, that buy up unpaid debt and use the courts to collect.
Update: Rdan here…Yves Smith takes the high road on ‘ruthless’ in PR push against strategic defaulters underway…is there a debtor’s prison in your future?. This is Peterson’s choice of words.