Criminalization of Poverty

Across the country, poverty itself has become a crime. A $150 traffic ticket can result in thousands of dollars in court-related debt, years in the criminal justice system, and even incarceration for those unable to pay. In the wake of the Great Recession, many state and local courts throughout the country have created debtors’ prisons by using excessive fines and fees, private collection companies, and the threat of jail to collect from defendants. This especially impacts low-income communities of color, where poverty is already concentrated and where people are more likely to be pulled over due to racial bias in policing.

But, communities are fighting back. From Washington, to Missouri, to Virginia, individuals are sharing their stories and community organizations are calling for an end to the unjust practices that have made it a crime to be poor.

“Debtors’ Prisons Redux” provides an overview of the problem, and explains just how judges and courts use loopholes to put people in prison for being poor. We then share victories and ongoing campaigns in states across the country, and call for change with a list of tools to put an end to debtors’ prisons once and for all. It’s time to stop the criminalization of poverty.

Debtors’ Prisons Redux: How Legal Loopholes Let Courts Across the Country Criminalize Poverty (pdf)

Recommendations (pdf)

Appendix 1: Terms to Know (pdf)

Appendix 2: Modern Day Debtors’ Prisons: How a $100 Traffic Ticket Can Lead to Thousands in Debt and Jail Time (pdf)