Predatory Fines and Fees: Revenue, Fiscal Contrition, and Policy Change


Fees described as “surcharges” or “costs” that seek revenue are significantly more common than fees described as “fines” or “penalties” at all three sites.

Some local jurisdictions are beginning to grapple with the social costs and individual harms associated with monetary sanctions and how they can become less reliant on them. This report clarifies how revenue functions from fines and fees and seeks to identify practices to reduce predatory financial extraction in the criminal legal system. Researchers chose three sites–Dallas County, TX, Ramsey County, MN, and Nashville-Davidson County, TN–that were interested in reducing their reliance on monetary sanctions and collected data on the dollar amount assessed, collected, and waived for each fine and fee imposed by a criminal justice entity or vendor from FY 2014 through FY 2018. They found that nearly all 458 monetary sanctions coded between the three sites are punitive fees. The report also highlights the importance of discretion at the county level and how some sites use that discretion to reduce predatory fines and fees. 

You can read the full text here

Key Findings:

  • Predatory monetary sanctions–fines and fees meant to recoup costs– in Dallas County and Nashville-Davidson County vastly outnumber those meant to punish convictions or non-compliance.
  • There are 14 times the number of recoupment sanctions than punitive sanctions in Dallas County and 3.5 times the number in Metro Nashville.
  • In Dallas County, predatory fines and fees brought in three times more revenue than punitive sanctions.
  • In Metro Nashville, 28 monetary sanctions generated 78 percent of the revenue over five years.
  • From 2014 to 2018, Dallas County decreased seven predatory monetary sanctions by 15 to 41 percent.
Karin D. Martin
Law & Policy