Access to Justice Spotlight: Fines & Fees

In April 2023, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, Office of Justice Programs, and Office for Access to Justice issued a revised Dear Colleague Letter, which detailed seven constitutional principles relevant to the imposition and enforcement of fines and fees. The letter also raised concerns about the imposition of fines and fees on individuals who are unable to afford them and the reliance on fines and fees as a revenue source. As a follow-up to the letter and to help jurisdictions pivot from their systemic reliance on fines and fees as a revenue source, this report summarizes common and innovative fine and fee approaches from across the country with implementation examples from various levels of government. It also includes examples of ways governments have attempted to redress the harm fines and fees can cause.

You can read the full text here.  

Key Findings:

  • Only eight states have eliminated all juvenile fines and fees.
  • California, Delaware, Hawaii, Nebraska, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island have abolished or do not authorize fees related to court-appointed counsel.
  • At least ten states either ban or do not authorize courts to impose fees on an acquitted defendant whose charges are dismissed.
  • At least six states have passed legislation barring courts and municipalities from assessing new fees, or fees that exceed a certain aggregate threshold, without explicit authorization from the state legislature.


  • Consider alternative ways to obtain resources other than by assessing fines and fees.
  • Eliminate the fines and fees at a jurisdictions’ discretion.
  • Eliminate all juvenile fines and fees.
  • Eliminate fees for using a public defender.
  • Eliminate fees for diversion programs and costs related to parole and probation supervision.
  • Eliminate carceral fees such as room and board, telecommunication, medical co-pays, and commissary markups.
  • Eliminate court fees for individuals acquitted or whose case is dismissed.
  • Require legislative authorization to implement new fines and fees and impose set caps on local jurisdictions.
  • Provide individualized alternatives to fines.
  • Provide meaningful ability to pay determinations.
  • Provide penalty-free payment plans if jurisdictions do not waive assessments for indigency.
  • Lift debt-based driving restrictions.
Office for Access to Justice