Poor Not Guilty: The Fines and Fees Challenge

Every year, millions of Americans become trapped in a cycle of punishment simply because they can’t afford to pay these fines and fees. Without any means of escape from a system designed to punish poverty, many Americans lose their jobs, homes, and even their children. Almost every state has laws that punish and fine people who are un-housed simply for engaging in necessary activities such as sleeping or sitting in public. These types of policies criminalize homelessness and fail to address its root causes — lack of access to affordable, adequate housing.

Poor Not Guilty: The Fines and Fees Challenge is an interactive educational tool based on a series of real-life experiences that highlight how fines and fees for petty offenses often create impossible situations for those experiencing poverty and/or homelessness. Each scenario asks the player to make a series of choices in response to an inciting circumstance with the goal of escaping the cycle that financial punishment systems trap them in.

Developed by The National Homelessness Center, in partnership with the Fines and Fees Justice Center, UM Law Human Rights Clinic, DePaul University, and Matters at Play, this educational tool can be used to help audiences understand the difficulties experienced by people living in poverty. The National Homelessness Law Center has provided a suggested lesson plan here.

Take the challenge.