Debt, Incarceration, and Re-Entry: A Scoping Review


50 to 90 percent of people with LFOs have overdue payments.

Justice-involved people and their families are heavily burdened by debt: legal financial obligations (LFO) from criminal justice involvement, pre-existing debt that compounded during incarceration, and debts accrued during reentry. This study reviewed 31 studies between 1990 and 2019 that studied justice-involved people in the United States that had been incarcerated and their financial debt. The authors found that people who have been incarcerated are severely impacted by a variety of debts, and African Americans are disproportionately affected. These overlapping debts cause people to face hardships that can hinder employment, financial security, and reentry.   

You can read the full text here.  

Key Findings:

  • LFO debt is most often the result of post-release supervision fees.
  • 75 percent of LFO debts are sent to collections.
  • LFO debt causes incarceration due to nonpayment in 17 to 20 percent of cases.


  • Eliminate LFOs or assess fines and fees on a sliding scale.
  • Automatically freeze child support payments during incarceration.
  • Provide justice-involved people with financial guidance to help minimize the impact of incarceration on their debt and credit.
Annie Harper, Callie Ginapp, Tommaso Bardelli, Alyssa Grimshaw, Marissa Justen, Alaa Mohamedali, Isaiah Thomas, and Lisa Puglisi
American Journal of Criminal Justice