Blood From a Turnip: Money as Punishment in Idaho

In 2019, the Idaho Legislature’s Office of Performance Evaluations (OPE)  published a report acknowledging Idaho’s reliance on fines and fees as a source of court funding. According to the report Idaho residents owed a total of more than $268 million in delinquent court debt. In this article, the authors further examine the state’s reliance on monetary sanctions, focusing on fees in the juvenile delinquency system, and recommending a pathway to ending the harmful impact of monetary sanctions. 

Access the full article here

Key Findings: 

  • Idaho law gives judges the discretion to impose fines in all criminal cases, but requires an administrative surcharge fee in every criminal case. 
  • In 2015, Idaho courts ordered $65 million in criminal fines and fees– a significant majority of the courts’ gross revenue.
  • There is no law or policy to determine when a defendant is unable to pay fines and fees, or when to write off or waive unpaid debt. 
  • Youth in Idaho can be charged fees at many points during a juvenile proceeding, mostly without considering the youth or their family’s ability to pay. Costs imposed can include  fees for a court appointed public defender, supervision, electronic monitoring, costs of detention, and court ordered treatments or classes. 
  • In 2020, Idaho adopted new juvenile fees for electronic monitoring and drug and alcohol testing. 
  • Outstanding juvenile fees are subject to a 12 percent annual interest rate and nonpayment can result in arrest, wage garnishment, or tax fund interception.  


  • Court agencies, counties and juvenile courts should exercise their discretion to end juvenile fees immediately. 
  • Place a moratorium on all garnishments, liens, tax refund intercepts, interest accrual and other harmful penalties and collection measures. 
  • Courts should stop issuing and recall all arrest warrants for unpaid court debt and never refer debt to private collections. 
  • The legislature should eliminate fees while preserving funding for important state and local programs with tax dollars and waive outstanding debt. 
  • County Boards of Commissioners should pass ordinances barring the imposition of all discretionary fees. 
  • Counties should cancel all outstanding debt from fees and cancel contracts with private debt collection agencies seeking to recover juvenile fees from Idaho youth and families.
Christina Mendez, Jeffrey Selbin, Gus Tupper
Idaho Law Review