FFJC took a mixed-methods research approach to understand the burden of fines and fees on economically vulnerable New Mexicans. FFJC’s New Mexico office, in partnership with the New Mexico Advisory Board on Fines and Fees and ACLU New Mexico, administered a state-wide survey to gather data on New Mexicans’ experiences with court debt and the state’s criminal fine and fee system. Through survey findings and conversations with 511 respondents, FFJC aimed to answer the following questions:
- How much court debt do system-involved New Mexicans have?
- What are the impacts of court debt in New Mexico?
- Are particular communities disproportionately impacted by court debt in New Mexico?
The Fines and Fees State Survey was modeled on the 2018 Alabama Appleseed “Under Pressure” Project. The survey entails 65 questions in English and Spanish and takes approximately 10 minutes to complete. Respondents are eligible to complete the survey if they had ever had court debt in New Mexico and/or if they had ever helped someone else pay off their fines and fees in New Mexico.
- Fines and fees are driving housing insecurity, food insecurity, and general financial hardship; 80% of respondents report forgoing basic needs including food, rent, and car payments to pay off court debt.
- Pressure to pay fine and fee debt is leading to high-risk behavior and undermining community safety; 41% of respondents indicated they had at some point committed a crime to get money to pay court-ordered fines and fees. Nearly half of respondents had resorted to “payday” loans (short term, high interest loans usually due on your next payday) or other exploitative loan options to pay fines and fees.
- New Mexicans are serving time in jail for their inability to pay fines and fees; Nearly half (48%) of respondents report having gone to jail to “pay off” their court debt when they could not afford it.
- Most respondents had their licenses suspended as a result of unpaid court debt; 57% of respondents indicated their license had been suspended at some point for failure to pay fines and fees. Rural New Mexicans were 31% more likely to be impacted by license suspensions.
- Most respondents were parents and heads of their households; 60% of respondents had dependent children at the time of taking the survey.
- In New Mexico, most people who are struggling with court debt have also been victims of crime. More than two thirds of respondents had been a victim of crime at some point in their lives.