In 1867, Congress passed legislation that forbid the practices of debt peonage. However, the law was circumvented after the period of Reconstruction in the south and debt peonage became central to the expansion of southern agriculture through sharecropping and industrialization through convict leasing, practices that forced debtors into new forms of coerced labor. Debt peonage was presumable ended in the 1940s by the Justice Department. But was it? The era of mass incarceration has institutionalized a new form of debt peonage through which racialized poverty is governed, mechanisms of social control are reconstituted, and freedom is circumscribed. In this paper, we examine the mechanism of the “new debt peonage” and its consequences in the lives of 30 men, mostly African American, released from an alternative incarceration facility in Cleveland, Ohio. Debt for these men included court fines and fees, restitution costs, motor vehicle fines and reinstatement fees, parole and probation supervision fees, child support debt, as well as education and medical debt. Median debt at the time of community reentry for these 30 men was $9,700. These debts affected men’s strategies for community reentry and impeded community reintegration, and it imposed a new form of labor subordination and social control.
Black, Timothy and Caporale, Lacey
"The New Debt Peonage in the Era of Mass Incarceration,"
Cultural Encounters, Conflicts, and Resolutions: Vol. 4:
1, Article 4.
Available at: https://engagedscholarship.csuohio.edu/cecr/vol4/iss1/4
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