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Research Report

Sentencing for Dollars: The Financial Consequences of a Criminal Conviction

  • Alan Rosenthal
  • Marsha Weissman
Published: February 1, 2007

The financial penalties imposed, directly or indirectly, as a result of a criminal conviction, are among the least considered or analyzed of the collateral consequences. Driven by a combination of philosophical purposes—punishment, reparation, cost recovery, revenue production and cost shifting—local governments, states and the federal government have come to impose a vast array of fines, fees, costs, penalties, surcharges, forfeitures, assessments, reimbursements and restitutions that are levied against people convicted of criminal offenses.

Currently, these financial penalties are created and imposed in a vacuum with each new fee viewed as a solitary cost. The cumulative impact of piling on each new financial penalty is ignored and the roadblocks to reintegration are often unrecognized. When viewed in isolation, these penalties may appear to be a good source of revenue and a way to shift costs from the “taxpayer” to the “offender.” Financial sanctions may also give the appearance of being “tough on crime.” However, these penalties look quite different when considered in their totality and in the context of their impact on the person convicted and his or her family.