Unjust Revenue from an Imbalanced Criminal Legal System: How Georgia’s Fines and Fees Worsen Racial Inequality


State laws allow judges to extend an individual’s probation for outstanding debt due to poverty.

 Georgia’s localities are over-reliant on fines and fees revenue, making up more than 10  percent of their general revenue, while the national average among localities was two percent in 2018. This approach to raising revenue extracts wealth from vulnerable communities and widens racial, ethnic, and economic inequalities. The overrepresentation of Black and Hispanic Georgians unemployed or under-employed, and limited protection from court debt, makes them more susceptible to fine and fee charges that could easily be paid by their white or Asian counterparts in the legal system. The state does not firmly cap municipal governments’ fine and fee revenue. Instead, they permit the suspension of driver’s licenses until fines and fees are paid, endangering employment needed to pay debt obligations.  Georgia courts’ broad discretion across the state incentivizes jurisdictions to engage in abusive fines and fees assessment and collection practices resulting in many collateral consequences that exacerbate historic inequalities across race and ethnicity. This paper provides policy recommendations to safeguard people, and local and state government functions. 

You can read the full text here.  

Key Findings:

  • Georgia leads the nation with 40 percent of probationers on probation for misdemeanor or traffic offenses.
  • Georgia has the worst public transit system in the US, and 75 percent of individuals in Georgia whose driver’s licenses are suspended continue to drive.
  • 27 Georgia counties increased their share of fines and fees revenue during the Covid pandemic.
  • Since FY 2020, local courts experienced a $2 million budget cut brought on by the COVID public health crisis, putting more pressure on local courts to generate revenue.
  • For felony convictions, Georgia courts can impose a fine of up to $100,000 and a fine up to $1,000 for misdemeanor and traffic offenses. 
  • The National Institute of Justice estimates a 60 percent unemployment rate following the first year of release from incarceration compared to the 3.2 percent unemployment rate for the general Georgia population in September 2021.
  • Black felony probationers owe an average of $87 more in outstanding balances than other racial groups.
  • An analysis of 9,000 cities showed that cities that get some revenue from fines and fees collected an average of $8 per person, but as much as $20 per person in cities with the highest Black populations.


  • Limit local government fines and fees revenue.
  • Create racial and ethnic equity guidelines for local ordinance creation.
  • Expand state sales taxes to encourage local governments to end harmful budgeting practices for fines and fees revenue.
  • Reduce the number of fines and fees that are charged.
Ray Khalfani
Georgia Budget & Policy Institute