Thursday, October 23, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Wait, what?! There's a debtors' prison...in Montgomery County?

There's a debtors' prison in Montgomery County.

Wait, what?! There's a debtors' prison...in Montgomery County?

This is exceptional, America:

Anna Lisa Wodarski made a call to District Court 38-1-15 in Norristown the day after she learned there's a bench warrant out for her arrest. She hadn't responded to an open container ticket she received back in 2012. Now, she would like to get the warrants lifted until she has money to pay the fine.

The woman on the phone told her she would need to come in with the $50 fee for a hearing, visibly frustrating Wodarski.

She turned away and whispered, "This is why I want a drink." It's a half joke. She's a recovering alcoholic living in transitional housing for women on probation. She still reports to a probation officer for an old drug conviction.

Judge Francis Lawrence has already sent Wodarski to jail six times in the past over unpaid fines and court costs. She's served a combined two months, costing Montgomery County taxpayers more than $3,000. 

Some great reporting here by Emma Jacobs of WHYY Newsworks, who finds this type of move is common from this Montco district judge and that jailing people over small fines and debts is increasingly common across Pennsylvania. You could ask yourself whether this even makes sense, to deprive someone of their liberty and charge taxpayers more to incarcerate them than the amount of money that they owe. But you don't even have to ask yourself that, because this kind of debtors'; prison isn't just immoral, but it's flat-out illegal. That this happens in America in 2014 is unconscionable.

About this blog
Will Bunch, a senior writer at the Philadelphia Daily News, blogs about his obsessions, including national and local politics and world affairs, the media, pop music, the Philadelphia Phillies, soccer and other sports, not necessarily in that order.

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