About DebtorsPrisons.com

This independent news site seeks to cover America’s debtors’ prisons. It’s a system in which many Americans face exorbitant fines and jail over minor traffic and criminal offenses.

But these stories are not hard to find. Walk into a municipal court room. Sit quietly. Listen. These are not headline crimes. They’re everyday offenses. But in some places, huge court fees and fines – which cash-strapped legislatures often signed off on – mean even a speeding ticket eventually can cost thousands of dollars and result in jail time.

This site aims to produce exclusive, timely news. But more importantly, it seeks to find the voices of those whose lives have been impacted debtors’ prisons. It also examines the role of for-profit probation and collection companies. Some of these companies have been criticized for having an incentive to keep people in the system.

But there are other costs. Some are harder to measure than others. Chief among them is the chipping away of our faith in the fairness of the U.S. judicial system. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights recently found some communities target “poor citizens and communities of color for fines and fees.” These same places use law enforcement as ticketing and collections agencies to “increase municipal revenues, rather than to improve public safety …”


The debtorsprisons.com website is the creation of Jim McElhatton, a former daily newspaper reporter turned investigator who has covered crime and courts for more than 15 years in Washington, DC, New Jersey and Texas.

For more information, or to share a tip, email jm@debtorsprisons.com.