Ohio: Stop Jailing People Who Can’t Pay Debts

Target: Gary C. Mohr, Director of Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction

Goal: Stop jailing people for owing money

The state of Ohio has been throwing people into jail for being unable to pay their debts. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) covered the details in a report called “The Outskirts of Hope.”

The U.S. Constitution and the Ohio Constitution both explicitly outlaw debtors’ prisons. The law requires that a court determine whether a person is able to pay before jailing them for unpaid debts. But the ACLU investigation found that 7 out of the 11 Ohio counties studied had jailed people for owing money. In the last half of 2012, about 20% of Huron County bookings were due to inability to pay fines. There is no evidence that the courts made any effort to determine whether the people jailed were able to pay the fines.

About 16.4% of Ohio residents are below the poverty line. Job opportunities are scarce in rural Ohio towns, and uneducated people find it difficult to make ends meet. Among the people jailed for their debts are single mother Tricia Metcalf, who was taken to jail every time she was unable to pay her $50 a month fines for writing bad checks to support her children. Numbers show that she owed $3,096 in fines, but the Williams County jail system spent $3,339 to incarcerate her. Megan Sharp, a mother of three, owed $300 in fines for driving on a suspended license, and Huron County paid $930 to incarcerate her.

The U.S. Constitution outlawed jailing people for inability to pay fines and court costs in 1983. The fact that the Ohio prison system is ignoring this amendment is not only illegal, but is likely to further cement the position of the rural underclass. If people can be jailed for inability to pay court costs, who is to say that won’t balloon into people being jailed for inability to pay student loans and credit card debts?

Urge Gary C. Mohr, the Director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to stop imprisoning people who can’t pay their debts.


Dear Mr. Mohr,

We would like the Ohio penal system to stop jailing people for their inability to pay fines and court costs. The U.S. Constitution outlawed this practice in 1983, provided the courts determine whether the defendants had the ability to pay, according to the ACLU report, “The Outskirts of Hope.”

Jailing people for owing money does not save the taxpayers any money either. One woman, single mother Tricia Metcalf, owed $3,096 in fines and court costs, but Williams County spent $3,339 to incarcerate her. Another mother, Megan Sharp, owed $300 for driving on a suspended license, and Huron County spent over $900 to incarcerate her.

Debtors’ prisons are unconstitutional and keep people in poverty. We urge you to stop putting people in jail for their inability to pay their debts.


[Your Name Here]

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One Comment

  1. J Davidson says:

    Debtors’ prison is a truly medieval leftover.

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