Regressive Revenue Perpetuates Poverty: Why Georgia’s Fines and Fees Need Immediate Reform


In 2021, at least 74 Georgia localities relied on fines and fees for at least 10 percent of their total budget.

More than 300 localities in Georgia use revenue from fines and fees to balance their budgets, and 20 percent do so at rates researchers consider high and abusive. Georgians who cannot afford to fully pay their fines and fees by the initial payment deadline are charged with misdemeanors and placed on pay-only probations, pushing them into long-term debt and potentially incarceration. During the pandemic, Georgians with low income suffered the most with decreased access to state services and more aggressive fines and fees enforcement. Many had their federal American Rescue Plan stimulus checks garnished when they needed it the most. This report details localities’ dependency on fine and fee revenue and provides recommendations to strengthen safeguards.

You can read the full text here

Key Findings:

  • 26 localities sought fines and fees revenue to cover at least 20 percent of their total budget.
  • Rural jail data from seven counties found 56 percent of people booked for unpaid debts were African American.
  • In Georgia, a person convicted of a minor traffic violation can be fined between $100 to $250 in addition to the six mandatory state fees that are added.
  • By the end of 2021, 33 counties collected greater shares of revenue through fines and fees than in 2019.
  • Georgia courts transferred $7.2 million less in fees in 2020 to the state than the year prior due to a significant drop in total criminal cases.


  • Strengthen fines and fees safeguards to protect individuals with low incomes by:
    • Ending pay-only probation.
    • Capping local and state governments’ fines and fees revenue.
    • Requiring local courts to provide non-jail alternatives instead of assessing fines and fees.
Ray Khalfani
Georgia Budget & Policy Institute