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Fees & Fines

Court-related fees and fines exacerbate poverty and often result in incarceration. We’re documenting the damage wrought by criminal justice debt and working to end the unjust policies associated with it.


Nobody should go to jail for fail­ing to pay a debt. But every day, in cities across the coun­try, that’s exactly what happens. Seek­ing to gener­ate revenue, a grow­ing number of juris­dic­tions are impos­ing exor­bit­ant fines and court fees on indi­vidu­als who come into contact with the crim­inal justice system — and then detain­ing these men and women when they are unable to pay. Any infrac­tion, such as a speed­ing ticket, is enough to ensnare low-income defend­ants in a brutal cycle of mount­ing debt, poverty, and incar­cer­a­tion. While the jail­ing of people who cannot pay fines has been ruled uncon­sti­tu­tional by the Supreme Court, the prac­tice contin­ues.

The Bren­nan Center has been at the fore­front of call­ing atten­tion to the tragic reper­cus­sions and ques­tion­able legal­ity of these modern-day debt­ors’ pris­ons. In our report Crim­inal Justice Debt: A Toolkit for Action, we iden­ti­fied five core recom­mend­a­tions for success­ful advocacy against the unfair impos­i­tion of fines and fees. We urge elim­in­at­ing unne­ces­sary interest, late fees, and collat­eral consequences (for example, suspend­ing driver’s licenses), and ending incar­cer­a­tion for non-will­ful fail­ure to pay.


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