Civil Rights and Equity of Legal Financial Obligations in North Carolina


In addition to prison debt, 85 percent of people in prison in North Carolina have unresolved court debt.

Each state has an advisory committee on civil rights composed of members with diverse backgrounds, skills, and experiences that advise the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on civil rights issues in their states. In 2020, the North Carolina Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights was tasked with reviewing legal financial obligations (LFOs) and examining governing practices, collection practices, and racial disparities. The committee collected public testimony from individuals impacted by LFOs, advocates, and government officials who administer LFO-related policies. This report presents the committee’s findings regarding post-conviction LFOs and provides recommendations to address the civil rights concerns related to their findings.

You can read the full text here

Key Findings:

  • In FY 18-19, 88 percent, or $249 million, of fees collected by courts went to the state’s general fund.
  • 54 percent of people incarcerated in North Carolina prisons for inability to pay are people of color.
  • Judges only waive court costs in approximately 8 percent of cases statewide. 
  • Fees increased by 400 percent over the last 20 years.
  • Collateral consequences for unpaid LFOs include the issuance of an arrest warrant, incarceration, the loss of public benefits, suspension of one’s driver’s license, and a negative credit rating.


  • Commission a bipartisan legislative committee to conduct a study of the financial impact of fines, fees, and costs in North Carolina.
  • Fund training for judges and court personnel on state statutes and procedures to consider a defendant’s ability to pay before imposing LFOs.
  • Prohibit the issuance of arrest warrants solely for failure to pay LFOs.
  • Analyze the costs of imposing LFOs and collecting outstanding LFOs by state and local governments.
The North Carolina Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights