The High Price of Using Justice Fines and Fees to Fund Government in Virginia


In 2019, Virginia’s state government, cities, and counties collected $409 million in revenue from fines and fees.

Although Virginia has made progress in limiting collateral consequences from fines and fees, the financial burden of criminal legal fines and fees continues to be a barrier to achieving financial stability. Various court and incarceration costs, including those that go toward payment for law enforcement training, courthouse maintenance, and phone calls, are levied against people caught in the criminal legal system. If court costs go unpaid, judges can order a jail sentence of up to 60 days and an additional fine of up to $500. This report examines audit reports and budget data to determine how much money Virginia receives from fines and fees and how they harm Virginians. The state generates hundreds of millions of dollars from criminal justice fines and fees, a third of which was levied against Black Virginians, who comprise only 20 percent of the population. 

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Key Findings: 

  • Virginia collected $122 million in fixed fees from every traffic infraction, misdemeanor, and felony offense.
  • Audits of the Virginia circuit and district courts in 2019 found one in ten of the sampled cases had been overcharged, totaling $43,000 in extra charges against only 115 people.
  • Virginia jails collected $21 million in canteen revenue, $15 million in telephone fee revenue, $10 million in work release fees, $1 million in medical co-pays, and $39,000 in interest from people behind bars.
  • Prior to Virginia ending its practice of suspending driver’s licenses for unpaid debt, Black people made up 50 percent of the suspensions for court debt, and 60 percent of convictions for driving with a suspended license in which the cause of the suspension was unpaid debt


  • Eliminate all criminal legal fees.
  • Revenue from fines and fees should be placed in the state’s general fund and serve the people most negatively impacted by the criminal legal system.
  • Governments should provide data on the amounts of fines and fees assessed and collected and the demographics of people charged.
Chris Mai
Vera Institute of Justice