Getting Tough on Debt

Friday, June 21, 2013

If you miss two court orders over a small claims suit in District Court, the sheriff can come and get you. Here are the numbers on when the sheriff did. Design: Henry Owings.

How do you get from having debt to ending up in jail over that debt? The short version: missing two court dates after a collector calls your number in district court. But consumer advocates say the process is unfair to the poor.

On "The Lines Between Us," we talked about problems some see in the current system and a new law they hope will keep debtors from being locked up. Meantime, courtesy of the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition and students in the Consumer Protection Clinic at the University of Maryland's law school, here are the numbers on how often Maryland jurisdictions are issuing "body attachments"--in other words, sending the sheriff out to collect debtors who are missing court dates--and how many of those debtors ended up behind bars.

In the lead on both counts? Baltimore County. Why is that? We reached out to the District Court, and on Thursday, a spokesperson told us they would try to find us an answer. When we get it, we'll post it here.


Once you're arrested after failing twice to appear in court over small claims, a judicial official sets bond. If you can't afford it, you could end up in jail. Here's how often that happened in Maryland, county by county. Design: Henry Owings.