This Guide for Policy Reform by Harvard Law School’s Criminal Justice Policy Program is organized into four issue areas: conflicts of interest, poverty penalties and poverty traps (when people are forced to pay more or face harsher sanctions because of their poverty), the ability-to-pay determination, and transparency and accountability. Under each of these sections, a description of the problem is followed by legislative, judicial, and executive reform suggestions for people at the state level to use and incorporate into their efforts.
This guide aims to inform litigators about various strategies to defend and gain relief for individual clients burdened by criminal justice debt. It also serves to foster communication and understanding among stakeholders who work in this particular area of the justice system.
This video provides an overview of the history of debtors’ prisons in the U.S. and features compelling commentary from citizens describing how our current system of court fines and fees put them in difficult situations and made them resort to desperate measures for survival.
Arizona Chief Justice Scott Bales established Arizona’s Task Force on Fair Justice for All to recommend reforms for the state’s fines and fees procedures. The report consists of 11 principles and 53 corresponding recommendations.
The Superior Court of the County of Los Angeles referred people who owed court fines and fees for traffic tickets to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) without any inquiry into the individual’s ability to pay. A referral to the DMV resulted in the suspension of the person’s driver’s license.
This case challenges the constitutionality of a Virginia statute that requires the automatic suspension of the driver’s licenses of people who fail to pay court fines and fees.
During his search for new employment, Stinnie received four traffic citations that totaled $1002.00 in fines and fees. He was unable to pay, and his license was suspended. The first time he knew his license had been suspended was when he was stopped and cited by the police for driving with a suspended driver’s license.
This law implements a wide range of evidence-based reforms concerning multiple stages of the criminal justice process, from pre-trial practices to reentry programming and more. These reforms include, but are not limited to, increasing the earning credit for community service, reducing sanctions for driving with a suspended license, implementing a "grace period" for failure to appear in court, and requiring reentry planning for people who are exiting incarceration.
As budgets tighten, municipalities have turned to fines and fees to fill empty coffers. The result is that the rich may walk away, while the poor must pay or stay.
Tzedek DC's client received several red-light camera tickets approximately three years ago. After transitioning, she legally changed her name. However, her driver license still has her old name on it. Because of her unpaid tickets, which she cannot afford to repay at this time, the DMV has told her that she cannot get a new license with her correct legal name on it.