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

Fines and fees can cause severe and destabilizing harm for people required to pay them. Researchers from the Vera Institute of Justice collected and analyzed budget data from state, county, city and town governments in Washington to determine the impact of fines and fees on Washingtonians, and the amount collected in fine and fee revenue. While fines and fees most harshly impact Black and Brown Washingtonians, they raise very little income for the government– a little over one-third of 1 percent of the state’s total resources.

You can access the full report here

Key Findings:

  • Black drivers are 1.6 times more likely to be stopped than white drivers and 3 percent more likely to receive a citation instead of a warning.
  • In Pierce County, Black and Native American residents are more likely to be charged higher fine and fee amounts for the same offenses.
  • People of color have a higher likelihood of being charged with driving with a license suspended due to non-payment in Seattle.
  • A typical total cost for a felony conviction is $2,540. 
  • In Washington, consequences for unpaid fines and fees include additional fees, driver’s license suspension, and arrest.
  • Researchers identified $267.8 million in criminal justice fines and fees revenue that supported Washington’s state and local budgets in fiscal year 2018.
  • Of the cities and towns sampled, together they raised $103 million in revenue during fiscal year 2018.
  • In Washington’s 33 counties, nearly two-thirds of the $90 million in criminal justice fine and fees revenue derived from court-related fines, fees, and forfeitures.
  • $74 million in court fines, fees, and forfeitures were deposited into the state’s general fund during fiscal year 2018. 


  • Eliminate all criminal legal fees.
  • End driver’s license suspension and restrictions on voting rights, as a consequence for nonpayment of fines and fees.
  • Use money collected from fines and fees to serve those most negatively impacted by the criminal legal system.
  • Prevent the collection of LFOs through the garnishment of government transfer income, including social security disability insurance and stimulus payments. 
  • Governments should provide public data on the amounts of fines and fees assessed and collected, and the demographics of the people who are charged fines and fees.
Maria Rafael
Vera Institute of Justice