A debtors' prison
is a prison
for those who are unable to pay a debt
. Prior to the mid 19th century debtors' prisons were a common way to deal with unpaid debt.
In the United Kingdom
, the Debtors Act of 1869 abolished imprisonment for debt, although debtors who had the means to pay their debt, but did not do so, could still be incarcerated for up to six weeks.
Debtors' prisons varied in the amount of freedom they allowed the debtor. With a little money, a debtor could pay for some freedoms; some allowed inmates to conduct business and receive visitors; others (for example, the Fleet and King's Bench Prisons) even allowed inmates to live a short distance outside the prison--a practice known as the 'Liberty of the Rules'-and the Fleet even tolerated clandestine 'Fleet Marriages'.
Some debtors prisons, among the less fortunate, mixed togather a mixture of all races, and types of criminals. Petty criminals, debtors, vicious criminals, convicts and many more were confined into but one cell.
The father of the English author Charles Dickens was sent to one of these prisons (Marshalsea Prison), which were often described in Dickens' novels.
Notable UK debtors' prisons
In 1833 the United States
reduced the practice of imprisonment for debts at the federal level. Most states followed suit. It is still possible, however, to be incarcerated for debt: debts of fraud, child-support, alimony, or release fines can land a citizen in jail
, or prevent one’s release. In the state
, the Tennessee State Constitution
forbids civil imprisonment for debts.
Notable US debtor's prisons