Debtors’ prisons have a sordid history that was thought to be best left behind in Medieval Europe and in Charles Dickens’ fictionalized accounts of the 19th-century hellholes of Victorian England.
America was not to be outdone, however, debtors’ prisons were widespread in the United States as well, and stories of the conditions in New York’s debtors’ prisons could make one question if repayment of debts was really the purpose; violent criminals were much better clothed and fed. In fact, history shows that terror and slavery have always had a close relationship with debt, and it follows a path from the Romans right through to 17th-century England, and into America from English common law. However, America chose to abolish her debtors’ prisons a full 36 years before England; first in New York in 1831, and by 1833 the rest of the America had followed.(1)