Following the Money on Fines and Fees


 In FY 2019, state and local governments collected $16 billion from financial penalties imposed on people who had contact with the justice system.

The perceived legitimacy of the justice system and public safety may be undermined by the fiscal incentives resulting from states linking revenue from fines and fees to police and court budgets. Although the justice system is a public service for all, those who are least able to pay, bear much responsibility due to racial inequalities in policing, pretrial sentencing, and reentry. They can become straddled with justice debt and collateral consequences such as driver’s license suspensions, disenfranchisement of voting rights, and sometimes incarceration.  This research report investigated how much states and localities collect from fines, fees, and forfeitures.  It also reviewed each state’s laws to determine how fines and fees for speeding tickets are allocated, and classified whether the revenue was earmarked for courts, law enforcement, general revenues, or other special funds. The way revenue from fines and fees are raised could perpetuate harmful incentives across localities that exacerbate racial disparities. 

You can read the full text here.

Key Findings:

  • Alabama, Louisiana, North Carolina, Oregon, and Virginia relied the most on fines, fees, and forfeitures as a share of their general revenue.  
  • For FY 2007, 2012, and 2017 six small cities (Anacoco, Louisiana; Fisher, Louisiana; Grady, Arkansas; Hanging Rock, Ohio; Jamestown, South Carolina; and Oliver, Georgia) with populations under 1,000 relied on fines, fees, and forfeitures for over half of their general revenue.
  • In at least 43 states, portions of speeding tickets revenue are distributed to courts or law enforcement.
  • Except for Montana (and the District of Columbia), every state adds fees or surcharges to speeding ticket fines.
  • At least 20 states use traffic stop quotas as a police performance measure for the federal highway safety grants.  


  • Severe the link between revenue from fines and fees and the budgets for police and courts.
Aravind Boddupalli and Livia Mucciolo
Tax Policy Center