Debtors’ Prisons: Unlawful Confinement When you Cannot Pay Your Fines and Costs
It is unconstitutional to imprison an individual for failing to pay fines and costs without first holding a court hearing to determine the individual’s ability to pay. If an individual has not paid his or her fines and costs, then courts are still required to hold a hearing to determine whether the individual intentionally failed to pay what they owed despite being able to do so. When a court does not meet these requirements and, instead, jails an individual for failing to pay fines and costs without holding the requisite hearings, then that individual has been sent to debtor’s prison.
The Post-Gazette recently posted an article featuring one of our clients, for whom our firm secured her release from debtor’s prison in Fayette County, Pennsylvania. We also secured an order of court requiring the immediate release of all individuals who were currently incarcerated under a debtor’s prison, and further training for magistrate judges so they could better understand these constitutional requirements. If you have been subjected to debtor’s prison, or know someone who has, give us a call and we may be able to assist.