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In states, counties, and cities across the coun­try, elec­ted offi­cials and other poli­cy­makers are focus­ing unpre­ced­en­ted levels of atten­tion on the grow­ing number of people released from pris­ons and jails. This guide is writ­ten for these poli­cy­makers. It focuses on an aspect of prison and jail reentry that has received little atten­tion to date: people’s fail­ure to pay child support, resti­tu­tion, and vari­ous fines, fees, and other court-imposed finan­cial oblig­a­tions after their incar­cer­a­tion—a source of enorm­ous frus­tra­tion to parents, victims, judges, child support enforce­ment offi­cials, admin­is­trat­ors of correc­tions and community correc­tions agen­cies, and social service providers. In 2004 alone, more than 650,000 people were released from pris­ons in the United States, and an estim­ated 9 million people were released from jails.

Rates of fail­ure among this popu­la­tion are high: approx­im­ately two out of every three people released from pris­ons in the United States are rearres­ted within three years of their release; more than 50 percent are rein­car­cer­ated.2 Given the billions of dollars spent on correc­tions each year, and the public safety implic­a­tions of so many people return­ing to communit­ies from pris­ons and jails who are not comply­ing with their condi­tions of release, poli­cy­makers’ increas­ing interest in reentry is not surpris­ing.

As state and local lead­ers make it a prior­ity to improve the rates of success among people released from pris­ons and jails, they must consider the debts that this popu­la­tion owes when they return to the community—and the people (in addi­tion to the govern­ment agen­cies) who depend on the repay­ment of these debts.