The Broad Scope and Variation of Monetary Sanctions: Evidence from Eight States

This study describes the findings from the Multi-state study of Monetary Sanctions, examining the systems of monetary sanctions operating in California, Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Texas and Washington. The study included outlining policies around monetary sanctions within each state and interviewing with people who owed or paid LFOs and decision makers. The authors expand on previous research adding data from court observations, filling gaps in the understanding of systems of monetary sanctions. This work captures the variability in the imposition of laws regarding monetary sanctions and provides policy suggestions. 

You can read the full study here


  • For individuals who do not have the financial means to comply with financial sanctions, LFOs can widen the net and intensify involvement with the criminal justice system.
  • The scope of sanctions continues to widen with the use of private agencies to collect debt and enforce conditions of the sentence.
  • None of the states studied had a central state repository where information on the total amount owed could be found. 
  • There was little standardization across states with regard to the assessment of defendants’ ability to pay and collection of monetary sanctions.
  • The practice of determining indigence varied widely, including use of investigation reports and information about public benefits. 
  • Negative long term consequences resulting from their inability to pay monetary sanctions ranged from bad credit, barriers to opening bank accounts, bankruptcy, and insurance denial to people with suspended driver’s licenses. 


  • Outline and mandate a standard definition of indigence, ability to pay processes and full waivers of all costs.
  • Remove sanctions for failure to pay. 
  • Expand court transparency and access.
  • Develop and maintain accessible court data and procedures.
Sarah Shannon, Beth M. Huebner, Alexes Harris, Karin Martin, Mary Pattillo, Becky Pettit, Bryan Sykes, and Christopher Uggen