Nine Facts about Monetary Sanctions in the Criminal Justice System


66 percent of prison inmates are assessed monetary sanctions.

High expenditures in the criminal justice system have led some jurisdictions to rely on courts and law enforcement to generate new revenue. This report identifies nine facts about monetary sanctions to add to policy discussions, as understanding and reframing the use of monetary sanctions could promote economic growth and more effective governance.

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Key Findings:

  • From 1982 to 2015, the United States’ spending on criminal justice rose from $388 per capita to $937.
  • The highest quintile of counties collects 20 percent of their expenditures from fine and fee revenue.  
  • In Alabama, more than half of all individuals with a felony conviction in Alabama owe more than $5,000 in monetary sanctions.
  • Cities in the highest quintile of black share of population collect roughly $29 in criminal justice revenues per resident, whereas cities in the lowest quintile collect only $9.
  • 77 percent of cash seizures by the Drug Enforcement Administration were completed without an arrest or conviction.
Patrick Liu, Ryan Nunn, and Jay Shambaugh
The Hamilton Project