Revenue Over Public Safety


Law enforcement agencies in Illinois can retain 90 percent of funds from the property they seized and collected almost $300K in property, whereas law enforcement agencies in Wisconsin cannot retain any of the property seized and collected $444 per 100,000 residents.

Economic and financial incentives for law enforcement, state, local and federal governments, and for-profit private corporations have fueled punitive enforcement and mass incarceration. This report details economic incentives that are deeply entrenched in the structures of our justice system. Perverse financial incentives at all government levels, specifically in user-funded models, correctional bed markets, and enforcement-oriented performance metrics, exacerbate poverty, create conflicts of interest for officials, and disproportionately harm communities of color. This report also includes recommendations to unravel economic motivation from the criminal justice system and free up law enforcement time and resources to deal with issues that impact public safety. 

You can read the full text here

Key Findings:

  • With civil asset forfeiture, police can seize property from anyone on mere suspicion of its connection to an alleged crime; in 2018, Florida seized nearly $1.2 million in forfeitures per 100,000 residents.
  • Fees in the criminal legal process are commonly assessed for crime lab analyses, bail payments, public defense, community supervision, electronic monitoring, diversion programs, drug treatment, filing clerk operations, jail admission and incarceration, and late payment of legal financial obligations.
  • Many jurisdictions have outsourced supervision to for-profit companies that are incentivized to focus on profit generation rather than rehabilitation and to promote public safety.
  • Local governments monetize empty beds by holding people for federal, state, and tribal authorities; almost half of Kentucky’s jail population is held for other authorities.
  • ICE has consistently paid for unused beds in more than half of the 43 facilities with guaranteed minimum payment provisions; before May 11, 2020, ICE paid for just over 12,000 empty beds a day at the cost of $20.5 million a month on average.
  • Performance metrics for law enforcement and prosecutors– which significantly impact their career progression– such as arrest quotas, the number of indictments, trials, and convictions incentivize punitive enforcement.


  • Eliminate or limit civil asset forfeiture to narrow circumstances and eliminate financial motives for civil asset forfeiture.
  • Alleviate the burden of criminal courts by eliminating criminal justice fees and commensurate fines with the ability to pay and offer alternatives to fines.
  • Eliminate poverty penalties, failure-to-appear charges, driver’s license suspensions, jail sentences, and bench warrants for nonpayment.
  • Reduce the influence and use of privatized community corrections to end predatory collection practices, lack of transparency, and oversight.
  • Focus police and prosecutor performance metrics on safety and justice rather than quotas and convictions. 
Ram Subramanian, Jackie Fielding, Lauren-Brooke Eisen, Hernandez Stroud, and Taylor King
The Brennan Center For Justice