Who Pays: Measuring Differences In the Process of Repayment of LFOs

People unable to pay legal financial obligations (LFOs) are at risk of additional consequences for nonpayment – a risk likely driven by the local emphasis and reliance on fee and cost revenue for operations. This article summarizes findings from a study on the correlates of LFO repayment in the Monetary Compliance Unit (MCU). The MCU is a unit housed in a county probation agency solely responsible for collecting outstanding LFOs from individuals transferred to their jurisdiction at or near the end of their probation sentence. Staff work with individuals to create payment plans to repay the balance and use only civil sanctions to enforce compliance. The authors conclude that while civil enforcement actions were correlated with repayment for some, the collections strategy may not be beneficial to those with LFO debts in excess of their means to pay–underscoring the need for law and policy changes that avoid imposing debts beyond what people can reasonably pay. 

Read the full text here. 

Key Findings: 

  • Full repayment of balances is uncommon; only 31 percent of individuals transferred to the MCU have done so since 2012.
  • Each 1 percent increase in the starting balance significantly decreased the probability of full LFO repayment by 20 percent. 
  • Individuals with remaining LFO debt have larger debts and commit to pay a smaller amount (2.5 percent) each month than those who have fully repaid their LFO balance. 
  • Receipt of contempt hearings or capias warrants were correlated with an increased likelihood of full repayment.
Kathleen Powell
RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of The Social Sciences