an indefinite time while they work to earn money to pay
January 17, 2020 3:57 PM   Subscribe

Think Debtors Prisons Are a Thing of the Past? Not in Mississippi. How the state’s "restitution program" forces poor people to work off small debts. [The Marshall Project]

Analysis: How We Investigated Mississippi’s Modern-Day Debtors Prisons "We interviewed more than 50 current and former restitution center inmates and a dozen national experts. We filed 30 public records requests. Using more than 200 sentencing orders, we built a database".
posted by readinghippo (8 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Thank you for this post, readinghippo.

From first link in FPP: Many states are reconsidering the practice of jailing the poor, especially because of its inordinate impact on people of color. [...] The state has a long history of forcing prisoners—especially black men—to work. After slavery was abolished, Mississippi leased a soaring number of prisoners to private industry. Public outcry over deaths and mistreatment forced the state to end that program in 1890. Mississippi then founded the state penitentiary known as Parchman Farm, which was modeled after a slave plantation. It still houses over 3,000 of the state’s 21,000 prisoners.

Mississippi State Holidays, Miss. Code Ann. § 3-3-7 [bolded text mine]:

(1) Except as otherwise provided in subsection (2) of this section, the following are declared to be legal holidays, viz: the first day of January (New Year’s Day); the third Monday of January (Robert E. Lee’s birthday and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday); the third Monday of February (Washington’s birthday); the last Monday of April (Confederate Memorial Day); the last Monday of May (National Memorial Day and Jefferson Davis’ birthday)...
posted by Iris Gambol at 5:24 PM on January 17, 2020 [4 favorites]

Two reporters, Anna Wolfe and Michelle Liu, ultimately found that hundreds of people were in similar situations because of the state’s little-known restitution center program. Basically, we discovered, Mississippi was running a modern-day debtors prison.

I am dismayed by this article. The way this is reported gives the impression that debtors prisons are a big secret that they were 'tipped off' to and that Mississippi is the only state with a debtor's prison. Their research shows that Mississippi is the only state with this kind of restitution program, okay, but debtors prisons are a much wider problem than this program. This is a tiny piece of an enormous issue! According to the article the people assigned to the restitution center have been convicted of felonies, but it goes far far beyond this. In some states you can go to jail just for not being able to pay your traffic tickets and for people who are unable to pay a small bill, when processing fees and fines are added to greatly exceed the original amount owed, this is unrecoverable. And it's compounded by things like the practice of setting huge bonds for small unpaid bills.

ACLU, SPLC and others have been working to counter this for years, it's heartbreaking to see how a small debt can rack up fines and fees that snowball into something that may never be recovered from.
posted by lemonade at 5:55 PM on January 17, 2020 [14 favorites]

Many states are reconsidering the practice of jailing the poor ...

I read this sentence differently, thinking of the present Republican Party.
posted by JackFlash at 6:41 PM on January 17, 2020 [5 favorites]

“While individuals in this program are required to work, the MDOC does not force them to work,” the statement says. “The MDOC merely assists them in finding employment.”

...When they can’t get jobs, sometimes for medical reasons, they sit in the centers, accruing $330 a month in room and board costs.

I wish a few things were better explained... I mean, if people do not want to work or are unable, do they just stay forever, adding $330 per month to the debt owed? Maybe if they don't want to or can't participate they're sent back to regular jail?

Everything about this is terrible.
posted by lemonade at 7:00 PM on January 17, 2020 [3 favorites]

Not exactly debtor's prison. I believe they are paying restitution to the victims of the crimes for which they were convicted.
posted by Carbolic at 7:37 PM on January 17, 2020

jesus this is fucking horrible, the south is so fucked up and keeps on surprising me with how fucked up it is (and I was born and raised in Louisiana).
posted by egypturnash at 7:47 PM on January 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

Not exactly debtor's prison. I believe they are paying restitution to the victims of the crimes for which they were convicted.

Wikipedia suggests those sentenced to debtor's prison were "Destitute persons who were unable to pay a court-ordered judgment would be incarcerated in these prisons until they had worked off their debt via labour or secured outside funds to pay the balance." Which seems like a good for with what is described in the articles.
posted by biffa at 1:41 AM on January 18, 2020 [3 favorites]

Time for another reminder that slavery is still perfectly legal in the United States of America:
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. - The Thirteenth Amendment (Amendment XIII) to the United States Constitution
posted by srboisvert at 8:48 AM on January 18, 2020 [2 favorites]

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