How did breast cancer survivor Lisa Lindsay end up behind bars? She didn't pay a medical bill — one the Herrin, Ill., teaching assistant was told she didn't owe. "She got a $280 medical bill in error and was told she didn't have to pay it," The Associated Press reports. "But the bill was turned over to a collection agency, and eventually state troopers showed up at her home and took her to jail in handcuffs."
Although the U.S. abolished debtors' prisons in the 1830s, more than a third of U.S. states allow the police to haul people in who don't pay all manner of debts, from bills for health care services to credit card and auto loans. In parts of Illinois, debt collectors commonly use publicly funded courts, sheriff's deputies, and country jails to pressure people who owe even small amounts to pay up, according to the AP.
Privatized prisons have run into some legal and political roadblocks lately, which is a good thing. But the fact that the US even has an industry with a profit motive to jail people, plus laws and businesses which have an incentive to throw people in jail for not being able to pay their bills, is an ominous structural problem.