Fines and fees levied by criminal legal systems place an undue burden on people unable to pay, often trapping them in cycles of debt—and even incarceration—that can last for years. The reliance of many jurisdictions on such penalties to fund their justice systems creates a perverse incentive to order more fines and fees.
In 2016, through the Price of Justice Initiative, the Bureau of Justice Assistance selected five states—California, Louisiana, Missouri, Texas, and Washington—to receive approximately $500,000 each to tackle the issue of criminal legal debt. Training and technical assistance was provided by the Center for Court Innovation and the City University of New York’s Institute for State and Local Governance.
This report describes the work to-date of the five states, highlighting in particular the use of data and technology to measure and mitigate racial and ethnic disparities, and efforts to develop more meaningful and equitable non-monetary alternatives to the use of fines and fees.