The Stanford Debtors' Prisons Project

In almost every state, courts can imprison people who fail to pay fines, fees, or other court debts. We are gathering, analyzing, and releasing records documenting over a hundred thousand instances of people being jailed for unpaid court debt, with the aim of helping journalists, researchers, policymakers, and activists to understand and curb this widespread practice.

View data

The Debtors' Prisons Project

Despite well-known examples of municipalities running debtors' prisons, like Ferguson, MO and Biloxi, MI, there are not even state data that can be used to rigorously assess the scope of debt imprisonment practices. To address this data gap, we've gathered millions of records through hundreds of open records requests across the country. We've documented over a hundred thousand instances of individuals being jailed for failing to pay court debts over the last decade in Texas and Wisconsin alone. Hundreds of thousands of warrants for failure to pay from Oklahoma and Delaware suggest that the practice is widespread.

We, the Stanford Debtors' Prisons Project, are an interdisciplinary team of researchers and journalists at Stanford University. We are committed to combining the academic rigor of statistical analysis with the explanatory power of data journalism.

Get started

See the data behind our findings, and learn how to use it in your own analysis.

Who we are

Phoebe Leila Barghouty

Data Journalist, Stanford Computational Policy Lab

Johann Gaebler

Ph.D. Student, Department of Statistics, Harvard University

Sharad Goel

Professor of Public Policy, Kennedy School of Government

Joshua Grossman

Ph.D. Student, Stanford Department of Management Science and Engineering

Cheryl Phillips

Hearst Professional in Residence, Stanford Department of Communication

Sarah Vicol

Ph.D. Student, Stanford Department of Economics

Keniel Yao

Data Scientist, Tracksuit (Formermly Stanford Computational Policy Lab)