On average, people sentenced to probation in Allegheny County are ordered to pay $6,545 in court costs and $1,644 in fines.
Although probation is seen as an alternative to incarceration, it has become a driver of incarceration. Forty percent of people in the Allegheny County Jail are incarcerated because of probation detainers mandating that individuals on probation accused of probation violations remain detained pending a hearing. These revocation hearings can take months or even years to be scheduled. This report uses publicly available data from criminal dockets for cases filed between 2000 and 2021 in Alleghany County to unveil data not publicly disclosed by courts to promote transparency and accountability. Researchers found racial disparities in the probation population and that financial penalties by the courts are a driver of technical violations. In addition to a call for transparency, this report provides carceral policy recommendations.
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- 81 percent of court costs imposed on people on probation are outstanding.
- Defendants in Allegheny County have $370 million in outstanding court costs and fees.
- The probation population carries an average remaining balance of $4,871 in court costs and $1,258 in fines.
- Court debt is concentrated in zip codes with lower average incomes and a higher proportion of Black residents.
- The average Black person in the criminal legal system has 65 percent of their court debt outstanding, while the average white person has only 45 percent outstanding.
- Abolish the use of probation detainers for individuals accused of technical violations of probation.
- Payments of financial penalties should no longer be a condition of probation.