Skip Navigation
Research Report

Repaying Debts

  • Brennan Center for Justice
Published: January 1, 2007

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.