Prisons For Poor People In Debt Continue To Operate

Jail with barb wire
William Anderson
January 22, 2020

Peonage was outlawed by the U.S. Congress in 1867. That’s when you’re forced to work in bondage to pay off a debt. However, facilities that operate this way still exist, and they’re a threat to Black people who get locked into them! It’s surprising for those who don’t understand how they work.

Debtor’s prisons exist in places like Jackson, Mississippi and Ferguson, Missouri. They lock people into cells, where they’re forced to work off debts for private interests. 

For debts in the thousands, people work low paying jobs and return to “restitution centers” and cells, where they are imprisoned.

Plenty of people have been forced into debtor’s prisons because they can’t afford to pay fines or money owed for offenses. There have been major protests and a lawsuit in Ferguson over the issue, but despite a Supreme Court ruling against it, the practice carries on.

Prisons and mass incarceration are directly linked to slavery. After emancipation, wealthy interests sought to criminalize Black people in every way they could to return us to work (for free or little of nothing) through methods like prison leasing, sharecropping, and yes, debt peonage too!

What we’re seeing today, so-called restitution programs or debtors prisons, are directly linked to the most egregious acts of violence that have been inflicted on Black people. 

They should not exist. Instead, people need access to jobs, resources, and their right to a stable life!


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