Why Crime Doesn’t Pay: Examining Felony Collections

This research paper “examines the contributing factors which make collection of felony fines and [fees in Florida] significantly lower than collections for all other case types” and analyzes why felony collection enforcement is especially difficult. In 2013, the statewide collection rate for felony fines and fees was less than 15%, and that same year, Volusia County only recouped ten cents of every dollar of fines and fees assessed in felony cases. The research and survey results suggest that many people convicted of felonies in Florida do not have the ability to pay their fines and fees, nor do the courts expect them to pay in the first place. The piece concludes with a series of recommendations to increase felony collection rates in Volusia County and in Florida overall.

You can read the full text here. Additionally, FFJC’s Florida campaign is working to reform fines and fees practices statewide.

Key Findings
  • Felony fines and costs are difficult to collect: “92% [of survey respondents] indicated that defendants lacked the ability to pay.”
  • Collections data confirms a low statewide collection rate for felonies: “The State of Florida Assessments and Collections Report… indicates a collections rate of just 13.65%, or 38 million dollars.”
  • “Clerks in Florida…only look for a 9% return on felony cases.” In other words, Florida courts know that felony defendants are unable to pay, and do not expect to collect 91% of what they assess.
  • The majority of assessments are concentrated in just a few counties: 10 of Florida’s 67 counties account for $173 million of the $278 million felony fines and fees assessed statewide.
  • “Of those felony cases assessed, $18,654,263 out of $29,910,000 of the fines were levied against indigent defendants.”
Conclusions and Recommendations
  • Reevaluate collections to enforce better outcomes.
  • Allow defendants to pay their fines and fees over a longer period of time.
  • Reexamine the intention and the benefit of high-cost fees.
  • Attorney negotiations should include cost obligations: Defendants should be made aware of the fines and costs they might be assessed as part of their sentence.
  • Courts need alternative enforcement options: “Sentencing defendants to prison for non-payment has not proved to be effective… community service work assignments for non-payment provides an additional option to convert fines to service.”
FFJC’s View

The author candidly states that he believes fines and costs are “a powerful sanction to punish and deter felony behavior,” and his recommendations reflect that perspective. FFJC disagrees strongly. Particularly in felony cases where a defendant is sentenced to prison, in all but a few exceptional instances, fines and fees serve no purpose. Fees should be eliminated, and fines should be proportionate to the offense and the individual. The collection rate in Florida demonstrates the futility of trying to collect fines and fees from low income people.

Don K. Murphy
Institute for Court Management