A Continuum of Coercive Costs: A State-Level Analysis of the Imposition and Payment Enforcement of Statutory Fees


The convict leasing south imposed significantly more fees than the Midwest, West, and Northeast region.

In the past 40 years, states have dramatically increased the number of costs and fees to shift the financial burden of the criminal justice system from taxpayers to justice-involved individuals. This paper examines statutory law regarding fees in local and state criminal justice agencies to determine whether there are regional differences regarding the number of fees and enforcement of payment. Southern states have a long history of privatizing systems for individuals who owe economic sanctions; post-Civil War, the South leased convicts to farms and businesses and profited greatly from it, now 20 percent of states use work programs to collect criminal justice debt. This study suggests that of the five regions, the south imposes more fees and that the eight states with a history of convict leasing seem to have more fees, surcharges, and mandatory fees.

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Key Findings:

  • Following conviction, mandatory fees through statutory law ranged from $0 to $89.
  • Ten states have work programs: Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming.
  • 36 states have a statute, law, or rule that allows private collection agencies to recover debt owed to the state.
  • Eight southern states have a history of convict leasing: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas.
  • The highest number of states with work programs are in the Convict-Leasing South and the other south; states in the Northeast and Midwest did not authorize work programs.
  • A higher Southerness Index rating was significantly correlated with the number of fees and surcharges in a state, the number of mandatory fees, and the presence of a work program.


Jordan Zvonkovich, Stacy H. Haynes, and R. Barry Ruback
Federal Federal Sentencing Reporter