Fines and Fees Are a Barrier to Criminal Record-Clearing


One in three people in the United States has a criminal record.

Nationally, court debt is estimated to be over $27 billion; unpaid monetary sanctions creates barriers for system-involved individuals who try to clear their criminal records through expungement, including the cost of administrative fees, associated costs for the petition-based court process, attorney fees for legal assistance, and logistics of getting to court. On its own, record clearance can be tough to navigate; only seven percent of eligible people with a criminal record clear their record within five years of being qualified. In addition, a person with a criminal record faces 44,000 collateral consequences that can keep them from accessing resources like employment, housing,  education, safety net programs, and voting.  This issue brief explores how fines and fees create challenges for individuals trying to clear their criminal records and measures to eliminate those barriers. You can read the full text here.


  • Eliminate or reduce fines and abolish fees that are imposed to generate revenue.
  • Require public reporting of fine and fee data.
  • Automate criminal record clearing for certain misdemeanors and felony records.
  • Remove financial legal obligations and other barriers to criminal record clearing.
Gus Tupper, Jaboa Lake, & Akua Amaning
Center for American Progress