Philadelphia County Prison, Debtors’ Wing, Reed St. & Passyunk Ave., PHILADELPHIA, Philadelphia County, PA.

This from Welcome to Debtors’ Prison, 2011 Edition, Wall Street Journal.

Some lawmakers, judges and regulators are trying to rein in the U.S. debt-collection industry’s use of arrest warrants to recoup money owed by borrowers who are behind on credit-card payments, auto loans and other bills.

More than a third of all U.S. states allow borrowers who can’t or won’t pay to be jailed. Judges have signed off on more than 5,000 such warrants since the start of 2010 in nine counties with a total population of 13.6 million people, according to a tally by The Wall Street Journal of filings in those counties. Nationwide figures aren’t known because many courts don’t keep track of warrants by alleged offense. In interviews, 20 judges across the nation said the number of borrowers threatened with arrest in their courtrooms has surged since the financial crisis began.

In September 2009, Jeffrey Stearns, a concrete-company owner from Indiana felt the full force of the present law. From On the Rise of Debtor’s Prison: ‘The Scariest Thing That Ever Happened to Me’ (WSJ)

[Stearns] answered a knock at the door from a Hancock County, Ind., deputy sheriff. The deputy was holding a warrant to arrest Stearns for not paying $4,024.88 owed to a unit of American International Group Inc. (AIG) on a loan for his pickup truck.

The irony here, as pointed out by a Demand Progress petition, is that AIG recieved a $122.8 billion bailout – about $4,000 for every American.

More from the WSJ:

After being handcuffed in front of his four children, Stearns, 29 years old, spent two nights in jail, where he said he was strip-searched and sprayed for lice. Court records show he was released after agreeing to pay $1,500 to the loan company. “I didn’t even know I was being sued,” he said, though he doesn’t dispute owing the money.

Sign a petition to your lawmakers against the greed and manipulation

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