Debtor’s Prisons were one of the darker parts of the society in which Dickens was raised. Unable to pay off debts, prisoners were forced to perform hard labor while incarcerated—slowly paying back the debts to the state, or debt-distributer, and forced from meaningful and financially-appreciable work. These were formally outlawed across Western Europe and the United States throughout the 19th century, but they were a part of life that Dickens no doubt had strong feelings about. Coming from a low-income, low-class family himself, Dickens lived in a fatherless household for a portion of his life while his father served time in a debtor’s prison. Luckily, the particular prison that his father stayed in was more humane and allowed for family living and visitation; thus, Dickens childhood was not entirely paternally void.
However, the hallmark of this experience marks much of Dickens writing. He was a very vocal supporter of the poor—as has been made abundantly clear throughout this class—and he even helped popularize the term “red tape” for the difficulties in generating meaningful legislation in government. However, regardless of Dickens close personal ties to the debtor’s prison, and his socially-groundbreaking writings on workhouses, poverty and orphans—the social ills that plagued Dickens time are still around today. In fact, the Debtor’s prison has arisen as a term of social critique given the state of the incarceration system in the United States. With an estimated 20% of the incarcerated individuals in this country jailed for failure to pay fines to the state—and a national recidivism rate of 50%—many wonder of the system is simply set up for people to fail. Dickens knew the system of his day was created only with failure in mind, so how have we come so far and still have so many of the same issues?