Fees, Fines and Fairness: How Monetary Charges Drive Inequity in New York City’s Criminal Justice System


The New York City Criminal Court collected only 34 percent of the $68.7 million in fines and fees it imposed in 2017.

The State of New York and its localities impose financial obligations at each stage of involvement with the justice system, from pre-trial to post-incarceration. Failure to pay can lead to additional mandated court appearances, civil judgments, driver’s license suspensions, court warrants, commissary garnishment, and even jail time. Using data from city and state agencies and the New York City Criminal Court, the New York City Comptroller quantified the costs of financial obligations and the collateral consequences of failing to pay on people accused or convicted of crimes. They found low collection rates and grave consequences for nonpayment. They also found that private companies profit immensely from supervision fees, service fees, wire transfer fees, debit card fees, phone call costs, and commissary markups charged to individuals in the system and their families. The Comptroller’s Office proposes several policy recommendations to address the harms of wealth extraction from low-income communities through fines and fees.

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Key Findings:

  • In 2017, New York City Criminal and Supreme Court imposed nearly $100 million in financial obligations. 
  • New York imposes mandatory surcharges that range from $120 to $375 on all who plead guilty or are convicted by trial.
  • The City generated $11.5 million from court fine revenue in FY 2018.
  • Friends and families of people in New York City jails paid $2 million in transfer fees for 331,000 unique transactions in FY 2018.
  • Although New York City’s jail population has decreased  36 percent in the last decade, the City’s commissary revenue has grown 7 percent.
  • 45 percent of New York state parolees have outstanding debt.
  • In 2017, New York City issued warrants for nonpayment in over 11,000 cases.


  • New York should eliminate mandatory surcharges and forgive outstanding debt for it.
  • New York City should end or amend contracts with companies that allow exorbitant fees for wire transfers.
  • New York should allow partial or full waivers for fines based on ability to pay.
  • Prohibit courts from garnishing commissary accounts to pay court-imposed surcharges.
New York City Comptroller / Bureau of Budget / Bureau of Policy and Research