In Missouri, debtors prison is alive and well

If you think the term 'body attachment' sounds like bad news, you're right. Critics say it's illegal, yet the practice remains common.

By MSNMoney partner Aug 28, 2012 10:45AM on MSN MoneyChristopher Maag

Debtors prisons may be illegal under the Missouri state constitution, but the practice of locking people up for unpaid debts is alive and well, according to recent reporting by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Using a little-known practice called "body attachments," debt collectors, often working for payday lenders, regularly succeed in getting debtors thrown behind bars.


Critics say the practice is illegal and wastes finite government resources.


The practice is also common in neighboring Illinois, where state leaders recently passed legislation limiting the circumstances in which creditors can get debtors jailed for failure to pay private debts.


"It is outrageous to think, in this day and age, that creditors are manipulating the courts, even threatening jail time, to extract whatever they could from people who could least afford to pay," Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who has spent the past year campaigning for her state's new law, told the newspaper.


Attorneys for creditors disagree. The arrests and jail time are actually meted out to punish people for failing to appear in court to discuss their debts, they point out.


"If they've had notice and they fail to appear, then they get what they deserve," Mitchell Jacobs, an attorney for creditors, told the Post-Dispatch.


Winding up in debtors prison is a three-step process. First, the creditor gets a civil judgment showing that the debt is legitimate and the debtor has failed to repay. Next, the creditor and debtor meet in court for what's called an "examination" of the debtor's assets, which the lender may be able to seize.


If the debtor fails to show up for the examination, the creditor can ask the court for a "body attachment," which functions like an arrest warrant. The debtor can then be arrested and held in jail until he or she appears in court or pays the bond. The bond is commonly set at the amount owed in the original debt.


"It's the judge saying, 'You didn't show up when we told you to, and I don't like it," Jacobs says.


But the system is easily abused, according to lawyers who represent low-income debtors. Creditors can request multiple examinations, increasing the likelihood that a debtor won't show up.


"They were dragging them back to court again and again, waiting for them to fail, so they could get a body attachment against them," Swearingen says.


The new law in Illinois requires courts to send two notifications to debtors before ordering an arrest, and bars creditors from obtaining repeat examinations unless the debtors' circumstances have changed. There is currently no effort afoot to limit the practice in Missouri.

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Aug 29, 2012 10:23PM
SImply KILLING a few people would put an immediate stop to this practice.
Aug 29, 2012 10:15PM

The old saying of "you can't get blood out of a turnip" is so true.  And in today's economy, millions of people don't have enough

money for food and shelter, so how can they be expected to pay on charge accounts or doctors or hospitals or car payments?

Something has to go and anyone in a poverty situation knows that.  To put anyone in prison for not paying seems ludicrous to

me unless there is proof they are just no paying without a valid reason.


Some people do avoid payments because they can and for no other reason.

Aug 29, 2012 9:47PM
Aug 29, 2012 9:40PM
Well you are the AG, you can stop all this b.s of these payday loans putting people in jail. They are not a government entity like the IRS. So the AG need to stop getting press time and put a stop to all this madness.
Aug 29, 2012 9:38PM
If we go back to usury limits, at least half the population won't have any credit.  The lenders calculate a certain percentage of no pays and charge interest rates to cover their losses and still make a profit.  Those of us who pay our bills on time subsidize the credit for the deadbeats.  A lot of people don't deserve any credit because they are unwilling or unable to manage their finances.
Aug 29, 2012 9:08PM
Nothing like old news in an election year.
Aug 29, 2012 9:08PM
Probably a lot less trouble if the scourge of the lending industry, 'payday lenders'  were eliminated from society.
How they get away with usurious practices is beyond me.
Wait,  no it's not.  They pay politicians to let them rob poor people.

Aug 29, 2012 9:06PM
They won't need to empty the prisons of  rapists, murderers, and child molesters, they were set free
to make room for marijuana smokers.

Aug 29, 2012 8:55PM
I've actually had a dumbazz debt collector threaten me with bodily harm if i didnt pay the amount they claimed i owed...i told the bastard he had my address and i will be waiting for him on my front deck....that was in 2004 i am no longer waiting on the deck but i am at the same address and have NOT paid one damn penny in the collectors direction
Aug 29, 2012 8:36PM
Seriously, MSN. You tech geeks can't stop the SPAM posts? Do you just not want to? Are the spammers paying MSN an advertising fee for the privilege to post? Can you really not figure out a way to stop it?
Aug 29, 2012 8:35PM
BS !!! Every GD debt collector should be tarred and feathered
Aug 29, 2012 8:20PM

I was served for a seven year old medical bill that started @ $200 and i just had to pay the judgement of $1100.  Was sure insurance paid for, i could not find the documents,  lost during my foreclosure.

Never the less,  they threatened to throw me in jail for not paying 200 after i had already payed the doctor 2200 for my broken arm after insurance.......for all of you out there,  that cant seem fair to anyone.....Pure bs

Aug 29, 2012 8:19PM
Mite as well throw the goverment in jail!!!  They are 1 trillion $$ in debt!!! And it doesnt seem to go down. 
The next step will be concentration camps for the poor and elderly.  The nazi mentality is alive and well in the United Police States of America.  Sieg Heil!  Heil Hitler!  Long live the police state!
Aug 29, 2012 7:51PM
Ban usury? BWAHAHAHAHAHAA!!! That's f'n rich!

Jew Capitalist Banksters will never allow it.

Jew Banksters OWN your a**.

Bow down before the one you serve, your going to get what you deserve. (You already are getting what you deserve.)

Aug 29, 2012 7:24PM
Sure.....let's empty the prisons of all the rapists, murderers and child molesters so we can make room for all those people who lost their jobs in the recession and couldn't pay their bills. Sounds like a plan to me!!!!

Aug 29, 2012 7:19PM
They need to throw the scumbag debt collectors and thieving bankers into prison.

Aug 29, 2012 7:17PM
As a debtors' attorney, I always warn my clients to show up when a "citation to discover assets" is served on them.  The consequence of not appearing can be body attachment, which is not really a punishment for not paying the debt, but for being in contempt of a court order to appear.  This is serious stuff, and you don't want to be thrown in jail because you'll probably lose your job and maybe even your home while you're in there.  But do you know that if you're worried about having your few assets seized, you can claim your exemptions?  Go to your library and look up the code -- in Illinois, it's 735 ILCS 5/12-704 and 1001, where they're spelled out.  You can fight those leeches.  Good luck!
Aug 29, 2012 7:17PM
Some people rack up tons of debt trying to live like millionaires, when they are just average people. I do not feel sorry for them.
Aug 29, 2012 7:16PM
The entire thing is BS!  Who bailed out the banks, who sold off crappy mortgages, and who keeps pushing credit?   Who pays the price for all that?  The middle and lower income, your children and grandchildren.   And creditor's want to lock up debtor's and throw away the key.   I think they need to look through their own back doors.  Why are the bank executives not in jail or the mortage industry not in jail?  Because it is easier to blame the consumer, who were set up for failure by big banks to begin with.
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