Fines, Fees, and the Poverty Penalty

This issue brief discusses how fines and fees harm individuals and their communities, and puts forward several recommendations and strategies that prosecutors can use to mitigate these harms. Importantly, the brief emphasizes that meaningful reform should address most or all of these suggested strategies.

You can read the full text of suggested prosecutor reforms via Fair and Just Prosecution.

Recommendations for prosecutors
  • Avoid conflicts of interest by discontinuing and discouraging the use of fines and fees as a criminal justice or court revenue stream.
  • Decline to prosecute nonpayment of fines and fees, and oppose the revocation of drivers’ licenses for nonpayment.
  • Consider the impact of mandated fines and fees when making charging decisions.
  • Advocate for ability-to-pay determinations prior to the imposition of criminal justice-related fines and before incarceration for non-payment.
  • Consider a defendant’s ability to pay before taking positions in relevant court proceedings.
  • Implement ability to pay determinations in diversion programs and implement alternatives to civil citations (particularly quality of life citations).
  • Develop training for staff on the impact of fines and fees and how to effectively inquire about ability to pay.
  • Support legislation and other reforms to end the practice of suspending drivers’ licenses for nonpayment.
Fair and Just Prosecution