Municipal Reliance on Fine and Fee Revenues: How Local Courts Contribute to Extractive Revenue Practices in U.S. in Cities

This report explores the problematic reliance on fine and fee revenue by examining the relationship between local courts, fine and fee revenues, and municipal finances. The author collected and reviewed municipal court data and city level financial information from 2006 to 2016. Findings demonstrate that municipal courts serve as a mechanism to increase financial penalties in the criminal justice system, particularly in small cities with limited access to property tax dollars. 

You can read the full text of the report here

Key Findings:

  • In the 27 states that allow for municipal courts, 77.5 percent of cities host a local court. 
  • Cities operating a court report higher levels of judicial spending; they also have slightly lower total revenues and expenditures while collecting significantly less in property taxes.
  • Cities without a court are whiter and have smaller and less geographically-concentrated populations.
  • The average city with a municipal court reports over $28 per capita in fine and fee revenue compared to just under $13 for every resident in the average city with no court. 
  • About 19 percent of cities report no fine and fee revenues in at least one year.
  • As municipalities generate more revenue through property taxation they raise less through criminal justice charges. 
  • Cities that spend more on policing and judicial services raise more money through fines and fees.
Sian Mughan & Joanna Carroll
Public Budgeting and Finance Vol. 41 Issue 2