The Impact of Criminal Court and Prison Fines and Fees in Philadelphia


84 percent of 192 total respondents reported times they could not afford to call loved ones while incarcerated.

Over the course of the last year, Philadelphia’s Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity (CEO) worked to pursue fine and fee reform as a member of the Cities and Counties for Fine & Fee Justice (CCFFJ) cohort. Focusing efforts on maintaining family connections for those incarcerated, the Philadelphia CCFFJ Working Group and the Philadelphia Department of Prison surveyed incarcerated individuals and their families to evaluate the impact of criminal court and prison fines and fees. The working group found that maintaining family connections while incarcerated is unaffordable. The report details the findings from that survey and highlights the progress the city has made toward removing barriers to successful re-entry and economic mobility. The City is now working to eliminate commissary charges, offer one free hour of video conferencing per week and expand the number of minutes available for free phone calls.

You can read the full text here.

Key Findings:

  • Maintaining close family connections while incarcerated lowers the likelihood of recidivism.
  • One in three families goes into debt paying for phone calls and visits to jail. 
  • Women of color are most likely to be responsible for incarceration and court-related costs. In the U.S., almost one-in-two Black women have an incarcerated loved one.
  • The median weekly transportation costs to visit loved ones was reported at $45. 
  • Necessary food, hygiene, and other personal products have a $1 surcharge at the prison commissary.
  • Individuals are charged $0.17 per minute after the first 10 minutes of a phone call, generating $3.1 million in revenue to the phone company and the Prison Inmate Welfare Fund.
  • 96 percent of survey respondents reported relying on loved ones to financially support them while incarcerated.
  • 71 percent of those surveyed reported weekly prison costs of over $50.
  • 84 percent of respondents reported times they couldn’t afford to call loved ones while incarcerated.
  • Of the survey participants that provided income information, 64 percent reported a household income of $25,000 a year or less.


  • The Department of Prisons should use revenue from their general budget to finance the Inmate Welfare Fund.
  • Continue to survey incarcerated individuals regarding their communication needs.

Cities and Counties Fines and Fees Justice is a network facilitated by PolicyLink, the City of San Francisco’s Financial Justice Project, and the Fines and Fees Justice Center. The network supports localities that want to assess and reform fines, fees, tickets, and financial penalties that disproportionately impact low-income people and people of color. You can learn more about CCFFJ here.

Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity