Port: No more debtor’s prisons for people who aren’t paying child support


Sen. David Hogue, R-Minot, chairman of the Judiciary Interim Committee, presents the committee's report on Marcy's Law study to legislators on Wednesday at the state Capitol in Bismarck. 11-14-2018

MINOT, N.D. — When someone is put in jail, you’ve probably heard it said that they’ve been sent to “the clink.”

The Clink was a real, proper noun place. The Liberty of the Clink was a jurisdiction in the London area where the bishop of Winchester, and not the crown, collected taxes. For about 600 years, those who couldn’t pay their taxes to the bishop were sent to the Clink prison . It became a notorious place. So much so that it’s name has become a slang term for jail even all these centuries later.

I bring this up because the Clink was a debtor’s prison, a type of incarceration rooted in the seemingly paradoxical notion that you can get a person to pay their debts by putting them in jail. Here in America, Congress outlawed debtors’ prisons in the 19th century. In the 1980s, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in Bearden v. Georgia , they were unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment.

But while brick-and-mortar debtor’s prisons aren’t a thing anymore, they do still exist in practice. One might say that North Dakota’s statutes governing child support are an example of this.

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