Criminalizing Poverty Directly: How debt fuels mass incarceration

Abolish Prisons

Walter Scott and his children, courtesy of The GuardianWalter Scott’s tragic death in South Carolina this last week has brought attention to a troubling reality: in South Carolina, 1 in 8 people in jail are there because they couldn’t meet their child support obligations. Because this is a civil, not a criminal, offense, this means that at least 12.5% of incarcerated people in South Carolina aren’t there because of a crime, but (almost always) because of their poverty. It also means that people are jailed without a right to counsel.

In Scott’s case, it’s widely speculated that he was running from the police officer because there was a warrant out for his arrest due to the thousands he owed in child support. He served six months in jail and several other overnight stays for falling far behind previously.

South Carolina has particularly harsh penalties in this regard: a civil contempt hearing can be triggered when payments are just five…

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One thought on “Criminalizing Poverty Directly: How debt fuels mass incarceration

  1. This is a hard one to sort out. No one can pay child support from jail. That said I have seen a lot of people working under the table to avoid child support while their children go hungry. By doing this they also avoid paying taxes which just adds to the problem. Still, this system of jailing people who are simply trying to live is killing our country. So many good people spend all their energy treading the system that is designed to demean and destroy them. Spend that money creating jobs, teaching parenting skills, setting up child care programs and lifting people up. We don’t need a system of more people in jail away from their families and stripped of their rights.

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