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The Return of Debtors' Prison?

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Debtors' prisons were once popular prior to the mid-19th century and were used to punish those who owed unpaid debts. However, the U.S. abolished the practice in the 1830s but some states still allow police to haul away individuals to prison who haven't paid their debts. This spells big trouble for the uninsured who may owe large medical bills but have no way of ever paying back the amount.

Breast cancer survivor Linda Lindsay ended up behind bars after she did not pay a $280 medical bill. Linda was told that she didn't need to pay the bill, but it was still turned over to a collection agency and state troopers arrived at her home to take her to jail. Scenarios like these have Illinois lawmakers concerned–enough so that they passed a bill in March that makes it illegal to send residents of Illinois to jail if they can't pay their debt. The bill waits for action in the Senate.

When individuals are arrested, they aren't technically arrested for failing to pay debts. Instead, they are arrested for failing to respond to court hearings, paying legal fines, or other methods of being in "contempt of court". Currently, there are several other states that can lock people up for failing to pay debts including Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Washington. Debtors' prisons have become more popular in recent years with the onset of the recession, which puts a heavy burden on the unemployed, seniors, and those too sick to work.