Should Creditors Be Able to Send “Deadbeats” To Jail?

If this has you worried, read How to Avoid Ending Up in Jail for Debt!

Consumerist picked up on the article about debtors being thrown in jail, and a surprising (to me, anyway) number of commenters chimed in to support the debt collectors. For example, one commenter wrote

Not paying your debt = stealing. For stealing you go to jail. I am on the side of the little man, but there is no excuse to run up a debt and then simply choose not to pay it.

And another:

Yes, not paying your debts is ok, but ending up in jail for it is horrible? Not paying the money you borrowed is equal to stealing in my book. Throw the deadbeats in jail.

And from a commenter called “Angry JD” who should presumably know better:

Don’t spend what you don’t have. I have no sympathy here.

I don’t get the feeling that most people feel this way, but it is a little shocking to see so many people advocate for straight-up debtors’ prison. In other words, if you fall behind on your debts, these people think you should go to jail. Like everything, I suppose this is a value judgment, but the fact is that except in cases of fraud, nonpayment of a debt is not a crime—or even close to one. Until that changes, putting debtors in jail is a miscarriage of justice.

Putting debtors in jail for disobeying a court order to disclose assets is little more than a semantic distinction. The only difference between those cases and the numerous cases my firm has successfully defended is that those debtors did not hire a lawyer to point out the flaws in the creditors’ cases. When a debtor defaults, the creditor gets a judgment, and it does not matter whether or not the creditor has a single shred of evidence that the debt is valid.

Jailing debtors—regardless of the reason—is a miscarriage of justice.