For a better experience, click the Compatibility Mode icon above to turn off Compatibility Mode, which is only for viewing older websites.

A Constitutional History of Debtors' Prisons


In 1776, only two states offered constitutional protections against imprisoning people for debt. Today, forty-one states do. This Article traces that history. It begins by examining how debtors’ prisons operated in early America, and then divides analysis between three phases of state constitutional activity. In so doing, it looks at the arguments that won over states to protect debtors, the state constitutional conventions that enacted protections, and the failure of the federal government to address the issue. The Article concludes by noting that despite the success of adopting constitutional protections, courts have allowed debtors’ prisons to resurge in modern times.