Debtors' prison is a prison for people who are unable to pay debt. As recently as the mid 19th century, it was a common way to deal with unpaid debt in Western Europe. Debtors' prison started to disappear since the start of the 20th century. Today, none of the major economies practise it anymore.

What were the factors that caused debtors' prison to disappear in most parts of the world in the 20th century?

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    The fact that if you are in prison it's hard to pay your debts? Nov 15, 2013 at 12:50
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    @Lennart Regebro: To add on to your comment that it is near impossible to pay off debts in prison, bankruptcy law provides a higher chance for creditors to recover their bad debt. A bankrupt can at least work to pay off debts monthly. A prisoner cannot and is also a drain on taxpayers. Debtors' prison is less relevant as bankruptcy laws evolved.
    – curious
    Nov 23, 2013 at 0:50
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    Debt forgiveness is better than exacting vengeance on debtors sometimes. If Germany's World War I debts were at least substantially forgiven, there may not be World War II. The economic sufferings caused by the extreme war reparations was one of the causes that made the German people elect a mad-man to power. Imagine a highly indebted Europe after World War II when not a single cent of debt was forgiven by America? Would the outcome have been worse for post-WWII Europe had it not been for America's Marshall Plan?
    – curious
    Nov 23, 2013 at 1:07
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    In the US prison is most definitely not for acts of immorality; that would violate the separation of church and state. Prisons are for those who violate the law. Curious correctly identifies the answer as evolving bankruptcy governance - that should be an answer not a comment(because it is good).
    – MCW
    Sep 2, 2015 at 15:12
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    Because the Freemasons realized that having the sheep in debt increased control.... :)
    – CGCampbell
    Sep 2, 2015 at 15:28

1 Answer 1


In 1976 the practice was abolished by the UN under "the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights"on the grounds that "No one shall be imprisoned merely on the ground of inability to fulfill a contractual obligation." The debtors prison was abolished in some countries on the same grounds in the 19. century. E.g. it was abolished in France, Germany, Austria and the UK around 1870 as it was considered an offense towards the freedom of an individual to incarcerate them on such meager grounds.


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