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In almost every state, courts can jail people who fail to pay fines, fees, and other court debts—even those resulting from traffic or other non-criminal violations. While imprisoning someone for failing to pay a debt remains illegal on paper, these aggressive debt-enforcement tactics have led to the de facto reemergence of debtors’ prisons. Many believe that thousands of people across the country are jailed each year for unpaid fines and fees, but a dearth of data has made it difficult to rigorously assess and curb modern-day debt imprisonment practices. To address this data gap, we’re compiling an extensive database documenting debt imprisonment. Ultimately, we will anonymize the data and publish them for researchers, civil rights advocates, law enforcement officers, and other criminal justice stakeholders.
Researcher, Stanford Computational Policy Lab
Faculty Director, Stanford Computational Policy Lab