U.S. Man Jailed for Being Too Poor to Fish

Are debtors prisons on the horizon?

'So what next? Is giving out food to poor people the same as consorting with known criminals?'
Allan MacDonell is TakePart’s News + Opinion editor, with a focus on social justice.

Any American who went to school back when the national education system passed as the envy of the civilized world was taught about “debtors prisons.” These arbitrarily punitive institutions were presented as benighted relics of the British oppressors. Proud young Colonists were schooled that a Revolutionary War had been fought (and won) to ensure that no U.S. resident would ever be imprisoned for the crimes of poverty or debt.

Maybe all that quality education of yore wasn’t so great after all. After all, the current generation of U.S. schoolchildren is graduating into a country that gives them the opportunity to learn about debtors prison first hand.

A Michigan judge refused a payment plan and sentenced 19-year-old Kyle Dewitt to three days in jail because he was too poor to pay a fishing fine. Dewitt, who has a fiancée and a nine-month-old son and has been unemployed since losing his grocery-store job in 2010, was ticketed $215 for fishing smallmouth bass out of season. Unable to cough up the lump sum, Dewitt offered to put forward $100 and bring in the bulk of the fine in a month. Judge Raymond Voet of Ionia, Michigan, chose the option of sentencing Dewitt to three days in jail.

From Credit News:

“Debtors’ prisons are still alive and well in Michigan,” said Kary Moss, executive director of the Michigan ACLU. “Jailing our clients because they are poor is not only unconstitutional, it’s unconscionable and a shameful waste of resources.”

Dewitt is not alone in languishing due to lack of funds. The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan lists five ongoing cases. Learn more, and next time a panhandler asks for a dollar to stay out of jail, you may be inclined to take the request seriously.

Thanks to Boing Boing for the tip.

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