Debtors Prison: What did the prophets mean when they talked justice

When the prophets talked justice it was often in economic terms. Take a look at these: Amos 2:6-7,Amos 5:11, Amos 8:4-7, Zech 7:9-12, Micah 3:1-3, Micah 6:10-13, Ezekiel 22:12, Ezekiel 22:29, Ezekiel 45:9, Habakkuk 1:4, Isaiah 10:1-2, Jer 22:13. You can find a bunch more. The complaint of the prophets wasn’t that economic outcomes should be equalized, but that the powerful were using unfair weights, cheating the system and using their authority to extract rents that were not due to them. The charge was to apply the law fairly to all people regardless of social rank and to apply mercy to the poor. The main message was to avoid things like…this.

Three years ago, Gina Ray, who is now 31 and unemployed, was fined $179 for speeding. She failed to show up at court (she says the ticket bore the wrong date), so her license was revoked.

When she was next pulled over, she was, of course, driving without a license. By then her fees added up to more than $1,500. Unable to pay, she was handed over to a private probation company and jailed — charged an additional fee for each day behind bars.

For that driving offense, Ms. Ray has been locked up three times for a total of 40 days and owes $3,170, much of it to the probation company.

Yes, I’m sure there was some stupidity. Yes, speeding is against the law. But I’m pretty sure that even if she had shown up, she just couldn’t have paid and she would have been in the same spot. In our society driving may be a privilege, but lets be real, if you don’t drive, you probably aren’t going to work. Lots of people are hanging on by the smallest of threads day to day. Things that seem perfectly reasonable to a state senator with a stable family life to balance the budget are completely unreasonable to the people who actually get caught in the “roving taxes”. Being poor (even if your poverty is the direct result of poor decisions) does not give society the right to extract blood. According to the prophets it is society’s burden to show mercy.

Update: A second source of another story, same theme.

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