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End of Debt Prison

December 11, 2014

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Profile America — Thursday, December 11th. Throughout history, debt had been a criminal offense, with penalties ranging from enslavement to mutilation. In colonial America, some debtors were branded or whipped in public, but most were thrown in jail, debt being the only crime for which long-term imprisonment was common. But this month in 1821, Kentucky became the first state to abolish debtors' prison. The nation followed with a federal ban in 1832. Americans are fortunate in the more forgiving attitudes toward debt, encouraged by our near universal use of credit. Shortly after the year 2000, nearly three-fourths of U.S. households were indebted. That figure has sunk to 69 percent recently, although the median amount of household debt increased over this period from $50,971 to $70,000 in constant 2011 dollars. You can find more facts about America from the U.S. Census Bureau online at <>.

Kane's Famous First Facts, 2815
Debt in history
Kentucky laws pgs. 149 & 150
Americans indebtedness

Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Public Information Office | Last Revised: November 24, 2014