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(Color)blind Reform: How ability-to-pay determinations are inadequate to transform a racialized system of penal debt

This law review article argues that fines and fees reformers’ emphasis on instituting ability-to-pay determinations without any reductions in racially discriminatory ticketing may cause more harm than good. In particular, the author articulates a concern that ability-to-pay determinations risk legitimizing the existing system of monetary sanctions and entrenching damages inflicted upon people deemed ‘able to pay.’

Rodriguez v. Mach

Plaintiffs argue that their Equal protection and Due process rights were violated because of the inadequate notices, lack of inquiry into their ability to pay, and the suspension of their licenses solely because of their inability to pay.

Cook v. Taylor

This class action alleges that Alabama’s driver’s license suspension practices violate equal protection and due process because people are being punished without any determination of their ability to pay.

Mendoza v. Garrett

This case challenges the state of Oregon’s policy of suspending the driver’s licenses of people who cannot afford to pay fines and fees for traffic violations.

Personal Narrative: Tina Marie Phares

Ms. Phares was convicted of failure to pay nine times and sentenced to 30 days in jail seven times. She entered a treatment program in 2017 and is now drug-free. In 2018, Ms. Phares completed three months of temporary work, bringing home her first paycheck since her son died. She still owes $15000 in court debt. No inquiry was ever made as to her ability to pay.
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