Support a Federal Ban on Debtors’ Prisons

Target: Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin)

Goal: Support Rep. Takano’s bill to enact a federal ban of debtors’ prisons.

Debtors’ prisons could be ended permanently if legislation introduced by United States Representative Mark Takano (D-California) to the United States House of Representatives passes. With overwhelming support by nearly three dozen prominent national and state civil rights and criminal justice groups–including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and the Leadership Conference on Human and Civil Rights–Rep. Takano’s “End of Debtors’ Prison Act of 2016” would cut federal funding to municipalities that hire for-profit, offender-funded private probation companies to collect court debt. These include Judicial Corrections Services (JCS) and Sentinel Offender Services.

In many cases, companies like JCS and Sentinel threaten to throw probationers in jail for failure to keep up with the fees and conditions these companies force them to pay on top of the money they owe the courts. These offenses are largely composed of minor traffic violations. The offender-funded, for-profit private probation companies have, in some instances, actually sent probationers to jail, even though debtors’ prisons have been abolished in the United States for close to 200 years.

Rep. Takano’s bill is part of a surge in federal legislation aimed at rectifying the unjust and often unconstitutional practices commonly targeting the United States’ poorest citizens. These practices use the poor as sources of income, trapping them in a cycle of poverty and placement in the criminal justice system that creates a quality of life consumed by psychological, mental, and economic stress, as well as crippling fear of the justice system.

Often, the poor are jailed for their failure to pay escalating fees added to court costs, even though the Supreme Court ruled in Bearden v. Georgia (1983) that the impoverished cannot be imprisoned for failure to pay fines if they legitimately cannot afford them. Sign our petition to supporting the ending of this practice.


Dear Mr. Speaker,

Offender-funded, for-profit private probation companies like Judicial Corrections Services and Sentinel Offender Services are engaging in business practices that significantly hurt the poor in the United States, most notably through threats of imprisonment for failure to pay fines and fees attached to fines administered by municipal governments for minor violations.

These men and women handled by these companies live in a world of significant mental and economic stress with a prevailing fear of incarceration, even though incarcerating someone who legitimately cannot pay their fines was ruled unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court in 1983 and the practice of debtors’ prisons has been abolished in the United States since the 1830’s.

It is with this in mind that we urge you to present Rep. Takano’s “End of Debtors’ Prisons Act of 2016” to the United States House of Representatives and do all you can to ensure the bill’s passage. The practice of offender-funded, for-profit privatized probation severely hurts the poor and damages American values in the worst way.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Lee Honeycutt

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