Can You Go to Prison for Unpaid Debt?

Going to prison for not paying his debts might seem a severe punishment. Realistically speaking, most of us consider this punishment a bit barbaric, more fit for the Middle Ages than our modern times. Still, there are situations and states in the U.S. where you can go to prison for unpaid debt.  Due to the complex legislation, you will need to work with a specialist if you are called to appear before the court because you did not pay your debts. You can always hire a professional Los Angeles lawyer specializing in criminal law and he will represent you.

od-criminal-justiceTypically, getting a person imprisoned for not paying a financial debt is the last resort. A lawyer will argue that there is no need for that. Selling valuable goods and periodically paying the debts is a common tactic with which lawyers win cases and manage to keep their clients free.

But if the client cannot pay the debt, going to jail is the only applicable penalty. This also applies to those who fail to pay the fees imposed in criminal judgments. Here are the situations when you can end up in debtors’ prison:

  • State laws that attempt to make criminal justice debt a condition of probation, parole, or other correctional supervision with failure to pay resulting in arrest and re-imprisonment.
  • State laws that consider imprisonment as a penalty for failure to pay criminal justice debt. These actions are considered a civil contempt of court charge, thus technically not in violation of state constitutions that prohibit debtors’ prisons, but for the same reason those incarcerated must be released immediately if they either pay or prove themselves unable to do so.
  • Citizens choosing jail time under state programs where imprisonment is a way of paying down court imposed debt.
  • States that regularly arrest citizens for criminal justice debt prior to appearing at debt-related hearings, leading in many cases to multi-day jail terms pending an ability to pay hearing.
  • The routine jailing of persons who owe civil debt when such debts are related to child support. Imprisonment for such debt is legally justified by the legal fiction that the incarceration is not for the debt, but rather for not obeying a court order to pay the debt.


Besides that, the debt imprisonment laws have returned in more than one third of the U.S. You can go to jail for unpaid debt in states like: Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah and Washington State.

If you need a good lawyer to represent your case, hire us!

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