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Debtors' prison: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A debtor's prison is a prison for those who are unable to pay a debt.

Prior to the mid 19th century debtors' prisons were a common way to deal with unpaid debt.[1] Currently, the practice of giving prison sentences for unpaid debts has been mostly eliminated, with a few exceptions such as inability to pay child support and certain taxes, and some specific countries, such as the United Arab Emirates.


By region

Medieval Europe

During Europe's Middle Ages, debtors, both men and women, were locked up together in a single large cell, until their families paid their debt.[2] Debt prisoners often died of disease contracted from other debt prisoners. Conditions included starvation and abuse from other prisoners. If the father of a family was imprisoned for debt, the family business often suffered while the mother and children fell into poverty. Unable to pay the debt, the father often remained in debtors' prison for many years. Some debt prisoners were released to become serfs or indentured servants (debt bondage) until they paid off their debt in labor.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, debtors' prisons varied in the amount of freedom they allowed the debtor. With a little money, a debtor could pay for some freedoms; some allowed inmates to conduct business and receive visitors; others (for example, the Fleet and King's Bench Prisons) even allowed inmates to live a short distance outside the prison — a practice known as the 'Liberty of the Rules' — and the Fleet even tolerated clandestine 'Fleet Marriages'.

Some debtors prisoners were less fortunate, being sent to prisons with a mix of criminals. Petty criminals, debtors, vicious criminals, convicts and many more were confined into a single cell.

The father of the English author Charles Dickens was sent to one of these prisons (Marshalsea Prison), which were often described in Dickens' novels.

The Debtors Act 1869 abolished imprisonment for debt, although debtors who had the means to pay their debt, but did not do so, could still be incarcerated for up to six weeks.

Notable London debtors' prisons

United States

In 1833 the United States reduced the practice of imprisonment for debts at the federal level. Most states followed suit. It is still possible, however, to be incarcerated for debt, but only in those circumstances in which the court finds that the debtor actually possesses the money or means available to pay the debt. However, in the case of child support, if you are unable to pay the amount set by child support enforcement you will be incarcerated even though you may not have the actual means to pay it through no fault of your own.[citation needed] The constitutions of the U.S. states of Tennessee and Oklahoma forbid civil imprisonment for debts.[3]

Notable previous Virginia debtors' prisons


Ιmprisonment for debts, whether to the tax office or to private banks, was still practiced until January 2008, when the law changed after imprisonment for unpaid taxes or other debts to the government or to the social security office was declared unconstitutional after being practised for 173 years, but still retained imprisonment for debts to private banks. However, the situation regarding imprisonment (προσωποκράτηση) for debts to the government is still unclear, as courts continue to have this ability for criminal acts.[4]

United Arab Emirates

Debtors in the United Arab Emirates, including Dubai, can be imprisoned for failing to pay their debts.[5]

See also


  1. ^ Cory, Lucinda. "A Historical Perspective on Bankruptcy", On the Docket, Volume 2, Issue 2, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of Rhode Island, April/May/June 2000, retrieved December 20, 2007.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Oklahoma State Constitution 2 § 13
  4. ^
  5. ^

External links

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