The story below ran on Morning Edition today on National Public Radio (NPR). Staff Attorney Beverly Yang of our Alton office is interviewed in the story.
Unpaid Bills Land Some Debtors Behind Bars
December 12, 2011 from WBEZ – By Susie An
Although debtors’ prisons are illegal across the country, it’s becoming increasingly common for people to serve jail time as a result of their debt.
Collection agencies are resorting to some unusually harsh tactics to force people to pay their unpaid debt, some of whom aren’t aware that lawsuits have been filed against them by creditors.
Take, for example, what happened to Robin Sanders in Illinois.
She was driving home when an officer pulled her over for having a loud muffler. But instead of sending her off with a warning, the officer arrested Sanders and she was taken right to jail.
“That’s when I found out [that] I had a warrant for failure to appear in Macoupin County. And I didn’t know what it was about.”
Sanders owed $730 on a medical bill.
She says she didn’t even know a collection agency had filed a lawsuit against her.
“They say they send out these court notices, and nobody gets them,” Sanders says.
She spent four days in jail waiting for her father to raise $500 for her bail.
That money was then turned over to the collection agency.
Sanders’ story is an increasingly common one across the country. Similar stories have been reported in Indiana, Tennessee and Washington.
Here’s how it happens: a company will often sell off its debt to a collection agency, generally called a creditor. That creditor files a lawsuit against the debtor requiring a court appearance. A notice to appear in court is supposed to be given to the debtor. If they fail to show up, a warrant is issued for their arrest.
Beverly Yang, a legal aid attorney with Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance, says most debtors don’t know their rights.
In fact, she says, some judges don’t even know the debtors’ rights, which could result in the debtor being intimidated into a pay agreement.
“I’ve seen this even when I’m standing in the court room as the legal aid attorney,” Yang says, “The judge will ask if they can pay, how about $150 a month. How about $75 a month? How come you can’t even pay $50 a month? Did you apply for a job last week?”
Read (or listen to) the entire story here: http://www.npr.org/2011/12/12/143274773/unpaid-bills-land-some-debtors-behind-bars