Fees, Fines and Criminal Justice In Tennessee: How It All Works and Why It Matters

In Tennessee, fines and fees are used as both a punishment and a way to fund the justice system and other specific services.  This report details the fines and fees people can incur through the criminal justice system and how they affect stakeholders. 

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Key Findings:

  • State law authorizes over 360 distinct fines and fees that courts, state agencies, local officials, and private entities can levy; over 250 of those are procedural fees and taxes that help cover operating state and local justice systems. 
  • Punitive costs, including fines, restitution, and forfeitures, are used as punishment for failing to meet court requirements or breaking the law.
  • Some of the pretrial costs people can accrue vary from up to $60 per day for jail stay, bail to secure release, and $50-$200 for a public defender.
  • Trial and other court costs vary from up to $50 in document filing fees, $62-300 court charges, $2 for courtroom security, and $6 for issuing subpoenas.
  • Criminal fines range from $50-$50,000 depending on the type of offense; incarceration and community supervision costs vary from incidentals like uniforms and toilet paper to $50 per month for community supervision.
  • Research suggests that severe financial or other penalties do little to deter serious crimes.
  • Revenue from fees is unreliable; the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation had a $4 million hole in their FY 2021 budget due to uncollected fees.
  • The people most likely to accrue fines and fees tend to be poor, and those who are unable to pay can prolong their involvement in the justice system, making it harder to reintegrate.


Bryce Tuggle
The Sycamore Institute