United States Systems of Justice, Poverty and the Consequences of Non-Payment of Monetary Sanctions: Interviews from California, Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Texas, New York, and Washington

Authors’ Introduction: “This report is a culmination of a year of research that involved interviews conducted with 380 people who made contact with systems of justice in eight states and were assessed [fines and fees].  The states include California, Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Texas, New York and Washington.” Within each state, the authors conducted interviews with people who live in urban, suburban, and rural areas. The findings of this project are broken into several categories: varying fines and fees experiences across and within jurisdictions, differing experiences of ability to pay, consequences of inability to pay, and navigating the legal process.”

You can read the full text of the report here. Additionally, hosts its companion report, Monetary Sanctions in the Criminal Justice System.

In the time I’ve been paying this debt off, I have gone from friend’s couch to friend’s couch. I’ve stayed at my dad’s place. I have rode around on buses all night long. Thankfully Seattle has 24-hour bus service, essentially 24-hour bus service. I have stayed in different shelters. During the summer I even found it was warm enough, saw a park bench, laid down, slept. So, I mean, I’ve had a rough go of things paying off this debt. -Washington survey respondent

  • State government agencies should collaborate and create public, combined lists of fines and fees to clarify the permissible amounts that can be imposed on people at sentencing.
  • States should clearly delineate whether ability to pay should be considered in sentencing. If it is, states should also define indigence and list types of evidence defendants could use to demonstrate ability to pay.
Alexes Harris, Beth Huebner, Karin Martin, Mary Pattillo, Becky Pettit, Sarah Shannon, Bryan Sykes, Chris Uggen, Laura and John Arnold Foundation