The Cost of Doing Time

Rufus Taylor led a pretty sheltered life growing up in Philadelphia, but he likens his late teen years to a kind of "Rumspringa" (a time when Amish-born teenagers "run around outside the bounds"). Taylor's "Rumspringa" however, didn't take him to nightclubs, but rather resulted in multiple counts of car theft and ultimately, a charge for armed robbery. He served a total of 13 years in prison and is on probation. When he completed his sentence in 2008, he thought his time had been served, and his debt - both financial and moral - was settled. Then in 2011, he applied for welfare and was denied because he had apparently not paid off all of his debts - he owed the courts almost $42,000, an amount never mentioned when he was released.

Taylor is one of more than 300,000 people in the city of Philadelphia who owe an estimated $1.5 billion dollars in unpaid bail, fees and fines to the courts that date back to 1971. The debt collection affects one in five people, in a city of 1.5 million.

This documentary examines the complexity of criminal court debt, which is a growing problem in cities and towns across the United States trying to pay for increasingly expensive prison systems.

Available now

25 minutes

Last on

Wed 12 Dec 2012 02:05 GMT

In Detail: Moving Pictures

A Flower Painting by Rachel Ruysch

Take time to discover the detail in old masterpieces using your phone, tablet or computer

Amazing documentaries from 2017


Catch up on some of the most powerful global stories from the last year


The Space Race

Stargazing - from eclipses to the spacecraft changing our view of the Universe

The Documentary Podcast

The Documentary Podcast

Every episode of The Documentary, on your mp3 player, to play wherever you are

The Compass

The Compass - branding 1920

The essential take on big ideas, issues and trends from the 21st century