If We Only Knew the Cost: Scratching the Surface on How Much it Costs to Assess and Collect Court Imposed Criminal Fines and Fees

  • Between 2012 and 2018, Texas, Florida, and New Mexico accumulated $1.9 billion in uncollected fines and fees. 
  • The cost of collecting fine and fee revenue almost consumes more than 100 times more resources than collecting revenue through general taxation.

This report investigates the amount of time and resources the court system spends to assess and collect criminal fines and fees. Through court-watching and conversations with justice system actors, the authors found that most jurisdictions are not aware of how costly it is to assess and collect fines and fees. The text discusses the findings of other publications that demonstrate  the inefficiencies of fine and fee revenue, the lack of information about the burden brought by criminal fines and fees, and the human cost of fines and fees on families and communities.     

You can read the full text of the report here

Key findings

  • None of the states surveyed, besides Texas, track how much local, county, and state governments spend on criminal fine and fee enforcement. As of September 2019, Texas no longer tracks this information.
  • Lack of data about the costs of fine and fee enforcement exaggerates views about the extent to which these costs generate revenue. 
  • Criminal fines and fees are inefficient sources of revenue generation. 
  • Using courts, law enforcement, and other justice agencies to enforce fines and fees comes at the expense of public safety. 
  • Jailing people for nonpayment of fines and fees is the most expensive method of collections enforcement, and it generates little to no revenue. 
  • The courts that were surveyed spent little time determining a person’s ability to pay fines and fees.
Michael F. Crowley, Brennan Center, Matthew J. Menendez, Brennan Center for Justice, Lauren-Brooke Eisen, Brennan Center’s Justice Program
UCLA Criminal Justice Law Review