When All Else Fails, Fining the Family: First Person Accounts of Criminal Justice Debt


Even if it’s the returning prisoner who has “done the crime,” it’s often up to their friends and family members to help “pay the time.”

Over the course of 2 months and 39 interviews, the authors of this report aimed to better understand how the punishment of prison and its collateral consequences (and fines and fees in particular) affect individuals’ financial situations and stability. The report issues recommendations for fines and fees reform based on available research and interviews with individuals from New York and New Jersey who have had contact with the criminal justice system. The report includes compelling excerpts from more than ten of these interviews, and many of the recommendations it advances are based on feedback and ideas from interviewees themselves.

You can read When All Else Fails, Fining the Family via Center for Community Alternatives. 

Key findings
  • Fines and fees have become more commonplace, and the penalties for debt have been increasingly criminalized with harsh sanctions.
  • Debt is paid not only by those convicted of crimes, but also by their friends and families. Even if it is the returning prisoner who has “done the crime,” it is often up to his or her friends and family members to help “pay the time.”
  • Fines and fees should only be imposed according to an individual’s ability to pay.
  • Legislatures should not create new fines and fees without first conducting a “reentry impact” statement on any proposed law that would impose additional criminal justice debt.
Mitali Nagrecha, Mary Fainsod Katzenstein, Estelle Davis
Center for Community Alternatives