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Confining Social Insecurity: Neoliberalism and the Rise of the 21st Century Debtors' Prison

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 April 2012

Genevieve LeBaron
University of British Columbia
Adrienne Roberts
Queen's University


Conjuring up images of nineteenth-century London à la Charles Dickens, the Wall Street Journal recently featured an article entitled “Welcome to Debtors' Prison, 2011 Edition.” The Journal was not using the term debtors' prison as a figure of speech but, rather, was documenting a recent spike in the use of arrest warrants by debt collectors to prosecute borrowers who cannot or will not repay small amounts of money. Indeed, over the past several years, and particularly following the most recent economic crisis from which the United States and the global economy have still not fully recovered, debt-buying firms have increasingly relied upon the state's legal system as a means of compelling individuals behind on their credit card payments, auto loans, and other bills to meet their obligations. In the past year alone, judges have signed off on more than 5,000 arrest warrants, incarcerating Americans for debts as small as $250.

Research Article
Copyright © The Women and Politics Research Section of the American Political Science Association 2012

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