County Dependence on Monetary Sanctions: Implications for Women’s Incarceration


Female incarceration sentencing rates are positively associated with county dependence on monetary sanctions.

As the overall incarceration rate has fallen in the United States, the incarceration rate for women has steadily risen in some areas. With the shift to legal financial obligations as a sentencing alternative for lower-level offenses, it appears that this policy change is hitting women–who are disproportionately represented among America’s poor and unlikely to be able to pay–the hardest. The authors explore an association between rural jurisdictions’ need to pay for their growing carceral system by simultaneously pursuing justice and revenue, suggesting monetary sanctions may have led to increases in female defendants’ likelihood of incarceration. Using data from 2007 to 2012 from the Washington State Administrative Office of the Courts, the Washington State Auditor’s Office, the Washington State Governor’s Office of Indian Affairs, and the U.S. Census Bureau, the authors trace associations among county dependence on monetary sanctions, women’s sentencing rates, and county characteristics.

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Key Findings:

  • There is no significant difference between monetary sanctions in rural and nonrural counties.
  • A one percent increase in residents in poverty is associated with a .10 percent increase in county dependence on monetary sanctions. 
  • County rurality is associated with a 23 to 27 percent increase in women sentenced to incarceration.
  • A one percent increase in the percentage of county revenue derived from monetary sanctions is associated with a 23 percent increase in women sentenced to incarceration rates. 
  • Counties that contain Indian Country have higher sentencing rates than those without Indian Country.
Kate K. O’Neill, Tyler Smith, and Ian Kennedy
Russell Sage Foundation