Confronting Criminal Justice Debt: A Guide for Policy Reform

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.

Alvarado v. Superior Court of California

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.

Personal Narrative: Damian Stinnie

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.

Alaska SB 91: Omnibus Criminal Law & Procedure; Corrections

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.

Personal Narrative: Jane Doe (DC)

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.