Confronting Criminal Justice Debt: The Urgent Need for Comprehensive Reform

This report is the first publication in a three-part series entitled “Confronting Criminal Justice Debt: A Comprehensive Project for Reform.” It provides an overview of the many types of fines and fees that the criminal justice system imposes and the collateral consequences that can result from them, with a particular emphasis on racial and economic disparities. Fines and fees can affect individuals at every phase of the justice system, in some cases leading to driver’s license suspensions, prolonged probation sentences, and arrest warrants.

Following a detailed overview of criminal justice debt and its consequences, the report provides an outline of two companion reports: “A Guide for Litigation” and “A Guide for Policy Reform.” You can read the full text of The Urgent Need for Comprehensive Reform here. 

The problems of criminal justice debt lie at the intersection of criminal and consumer law. Government actors impose fees for “use” of the criminal justice system and then collect on the resulting debt using tools common in the civil debt collection sphere along with more severe threats to liberty and livelihood rooted in the criminal system.

Abby Shafroth, Larry Schwartzol, Criminal Justice Policy Program at Harvard Law School, National Consumer Law Center