Debtors' Prison | St. Louis Public Radio

Debtors' Prison

(Jan. 24, 2019) St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Tony Messenger joined "St. Louis on the Air" to discuss the practice of debtors' prisons in rural Missouri.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

About a year and a half ago, a story about Victoria Branson of St. Francois County caught the attention of St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Tony Messenger. Judge Sandra Martinez sent Branson to prison for being behind on paying court fees. 

Messenger noticed a pattern of people going to jail for not paying fines. He explained the “debtors’ prison” practice – when people, who are usually poor, are jailed for minor crimes and can’t pay the fines or make bail.

“This is against a long-standing understanding of law, not just the prohibition of debtors prison, but something going back to the Magna Carta called the ‘no sale of justice’ – that basically you have to give access to the judicial system to people that have money [and] don't have money,” Messenger said on Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air.