Is There a Link Between Criminal Debt and Recidivism in Reentry?


Debt likely leads to reoffending in some situations, but debt as criminogenic may not be applied generally.

To determine whether legal financial obligations (LFOs) are criminogenic, the author analyzed a multistate data set from the Urban Institute’s  Returning Home Studies. The study followed formerly incarcerated men through interviews and  state-level administrative data up to 15 months post-release to assess the impact of criminal justice debt. The analysis of the data set found the association between debt and reincarceration to be statistically significant. Previous studies analyzing the link between LFOs and recidivism resulted in mixed and inconclusive findings.

You can read the full text here.

Key Findings of Multistate Research:

  • 44 percent of the sample owed criminal justice debt at the first post-release interview, with a median amount $225 and a range of $0 to $13,200.
  • The analysis showed an inverse relationship between debt and reincarceration among those not reincarcerated, suggesting that people who owe debt are less likely to be incarcerated by one-year post-release.


  • Interventions and programming should be individualized because debt does not uniformly impact justice-involved groups within varying contexts.
  • Reform LFO policy.
Nathan W. Link
Federal Federal Sentencing Reporter