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 7:16PM
There used to be laws in this country against usury.  The 1968 Truth In Lending Act pretty much put an end to these laws.  Bring back usury laws for the protection of people against predatory interest rates.
Aug 29, 2012 7:11PM

Glad they don't do that in Texas. What kind of idiots passed a Law like that in the first place.


 O' yes, people in State Congress being paid off by the credit card companies.

Aug 29, 2012 7:01PM

truth hurts 402 


Aug 29, 2012 6:56PM

vote republican and we can bring back the debtors prisons. while we are at it maybe we can start putting people in stocks and bring back caning. stone those whores that go out in public without covering their faces. it might be a good idea to start burning witches again just to be safe. maybe outlawing the democratic party would be a good idea too. those damn idiots.


Aug 29, 2012 6:50PM
Bull creditors assume risk of loss when they lend. There is no legal obligation for an appearance because a creditor wants to cry.
Aug 29, 2012 6:44PM
This payday lending and car title lending is a travesty. This country has let speculators and media ruin our country. This is only gona get worse. I didnt hear one word about helping states get their financial messes in order during the republican convention? I dont think these politicians know what to do about this cancer thats spreading throughout this nation. I hope folks can train their families and friends to survive. This is coming. GET READY NOW...
Aug 29, 2012 6:44PM

I don't doubt it one bit.  Just like the money loaners, organized crime, started this business years ago.  They loaned money at outrages pay back rates and if you didn't pay a couple of collectors would pay you and your family a vist.  They may threaten you and your family the first couple of vists if you did not pay the money.  Eventually someone would be physically hurt over the unpaid money.  The Mafia got by in large put out of business by law enforcement.  Now the banks have taken over.  The Banks are the loan scalpers and our law enforcement are the collectors.  If the American people don't do something soon, start by voting incumbents out of office, our country and freedom will be lost.  Both Presidential candidates are owned by the banking industry.  We need a third party voice of the people to run and we need to vote for candidates without the hundred million dollars in TV ads.  Vote for a name and a face you have seldom seen it is a way to start changing things.  Vote for me for President and in the first week of office I pledge to:

Regulate Banking heavily. 

Change the Rules on Credit scores and reporting.

End the sensless wars and bring our troops home.

Medicare and Medicade for every American.  We have to put the crooked drug companys and insurance companys to rest.  shut them down and get them out of our health care system.  Common sense they just take their money off the top.  Why does a tube of Salve (made in India) cost 560.00 like I had to pay just the other day.  A tube of freakin salve 560.00 dollars.

Everyone pays Social Security Taxes on 100% of their earnings.  Earn more, draw more, then pay more.

Flat Tax for everyone middle class and above.  Poor pay no taxes, we have to give poor people a chance.  Everything the poor buys cost them more because they have poor credit most generally.

Corporations are not people.  Force Legislation through stating such. 

Shut down the Supreme Court.  It is nothing but politicos that do not deserve to be called Honorable.  Honory would be a much more fitting title.

Tax the living hell out of American Companys who move overseas and then ship their junk back to the U.S.A.  Force all company C.E.O. and V.P.'s to leave the U.S.A.  they have no patriotism for our country so throw them out.

Minimum Wage to 20.00 per hour.  Everyone makes a living wage.  It would get people off welfare and super spur the economy.

Thats a good first week, what do you say would you vote for me?

Aug 29, 2012 6:41PM
Jail the government for allowing companies to compound interest on school loans, jail the collectors for the worst harassment ever seen and for compounding interest on education which should be a right for anyone who wants to do the work, and jail the credit card companies for only reporting negative credit and not the positive, for putting untrue things on a person's credit, and jail the lawyers for charging so much to even allow a poor person to have representation in the courts. 
Aug 29, 2012 6:35PM

read the article...even the title gets it wrong. All that is happening is a judge forcing someone to appear in court that ignores an order to appear. Sounds completely fair to me and the term 'debtors prison' is misleading.

If it's illegal as the state's constitution then the Judge should sit in jail until he upholds the state's constitution. I cannot see prison for any debt, if some one can not  pay how the hell is being in prison going to solve the issue. In this time of no factorie's to work at how is any one going to get a job when you aren't knowlegeble for office type work. Just shoot me grave yard dead and kiss my ****.
Aug 29, 2012 6:20PM
I'm sick and tired of trash in this country not paying what they rightfully owe and then somehow claiming they are the victim. If someone owed them and screwed them the deadbeat losers would be crying injustice!
Aug 29, 2012 6:05PM
Debtors prison then our prsident and governmnet should be behind bars. Alos it is happening everyware.
Aug 29, 2012 6:03PM
there is no small irony in that we bailed out giant financial institutions when they could not pay their debts, but throw the little people in jail when they hit the skids. name all of the bankers who went to jail because of the financial crisis. can you say "none". its hard to explain to bubba that he is going to the can, while driving the ex presidents of wa mu and wachovia to the country club.
Aug 29, 2012 5:19PM
Debt Collectors and Tow Truck drivers, Top of the scum heap
Aug 29, 2012 5:19PM
WHAT freaking century are we living in ? !  . . . . . for that matter , what country are we living in ?  Someone goes to prison for not paying money that was loaned to them , by someone who was stupid enough to loan it to them in the first place ? !  Oh , yeah , like we really need to help them . . . . . . .
Aug 29, 2012 5:17PM
Maybe we should throw these people in jail.  When you borrow and don't pay back, that is basically THEFT.  Thieves should be in jail.

Bring back debtors prisons.
Aug 29, 2012 5:14PM
Get ready Satan, America is coming fast!
Aug 29, 2012 4:59PM

our history indicates that many came to america to avoid the system of debtors prisons in europe. most people today would likely support the elimination of debtors prisons. unscrupulous creditors know that many to whom they loan money are not capable of paying the debt back. they still believe they can extract their pound of flesh. the courts should not be used to help these creditors. while some of the non-payers are clearly deadbeats, many are unsophisticated, uneducated and/or been subject to misfortune.

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