Probation and Monetary Sanctions in Georgia: Evidence from a Multi-Method Study

This article analyzes how monetary sanctions and probation supervision intersect in Georgia. Using data and interviews, gathered between 2015 and 2018, the authors find substantial variation between jurisdictions in the amount of fines and fees ordered. Probation officers and probationers alike questions the purpose, effectiveness, and fairness of monetary sanctions. The authors conclude with a discussion on reforms. 

Key Findings: 

  • The Second Judicial District has the highest median court fines and fees ordered ($1,715) compared to the Fifth Judicial District which has the lowest median fines and fees ordered ($390). 
  • Men are ordered to pay $105.90 more on average than women.
  • Each additional year of age is associated with a $16.05 increase in fines and fees.
  • Probationers sentenced to any time in prison are sentenced to $102.90 less in court fines and fees than those without a prison sentence.
  • Each prior conviction is associated with an additional $36.28 in fines and fees, but violent offenses are associated with lower fines and fees than other offense types. 
  • Black probationers owed $86.82 more than probationers of other racial groups. 
  • All probationers interviewed were threatened with incarceration if they failed to pay their fines and fees.
  • Probationers residing in rural areas of  Georgia pay higher amounts of fines and fees than felony probationers in urban and suburban areas.
  • Probation officers reported that failure to pay is often included as a part of lack of compliance with supervision conditions when probation revocations are initiated. 
  • Probation officers were nearly universal in their opinion that monitoring and collecting LFOs is not the most important aspect of their jobs, but requires a disproportionate amount of time and distracts from their priority of ensuring public safety. 

Opportunities for Reform:

  • Decouple enforcement and collection of monetary sanctions from probation supervision.
  • Provide clearer communication and ongoing education about the consequences of non payment. 
  • Systemically address ability to pay at the time of sentencing. 

You can access the full study here.

Sharon Shannon
Georgia Law Review Vol. 54, Issue 4