Saturday, October 28, 2017

Rent-to-own stores get special debtors-prison privileges

When Grits uses the phrase "debtors prisons" in the 21st century context, I'm typically talking about the practice of government jailing people for unpaid fines and traffic tickets, a practice which has expanded to a breathtaking scale in the last couple of decades.

But rent-to-own stores in Texas and elsewhere still utilize jails as debtors prisons the old fashioned way: By having local prosecutors file criminal charges against people who can't pay their private debts to a commercial vendor, the Texas Tribune reported. "[T]he 1977 provision turned the concept of 'innocent until proven guilty' on its head." Back then,
“The Legislature, in this business-friendly environment ... was all too eager to allow commercial interests to use the criminal statutes to clean up bad decisions they may have made in entering into contracts with people,” said Tom Krampitz, who was assistant director of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association when the bill was passed. “The reason why the [rental] industry deserves a special deal, without sounding too jaded, is they had a good lobbyist.”
Regular readers will perhaps be unsurprised to learn that McLennan County DA Abel Reyna ranks among the worst offenders. "[R]ent-to-own disputes made up 98 percent of the theft of service complaints filed with the Waco and Bellmead police departments from 2014 through the first half of 2017."

MORE: From NerdWallet. AND MORE: From the Texas Tribune. AND: From the Dallas News: "What are you in jail for? I rented a couch."

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