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Fines and Monetary Sanctions

Summary and Keywords

Despite the central role that fines and other fiscal penalties play in systems of criminal justice, they have received relatively little scholarly attention. Court systems impose fines and other monetary sanctions in response to minor administrative and traffic offenses as well as for more serious criminal offenses. Monetary sanctions are intended to provide a deterrent punishment to reduce lawbreaking, to provide opportunities for accountability through financial restitution, to restore harm caused to victims of crime, and to fund the operation and administration of courts and criminal justice systems. Fines, fees, and other monetary sanctions are the most common form of punishment imposed by criminal justice systems. Most criminal sentences in the United States include financial penalties, and monetary sanctions are routinely imposed for less serious, and far more common, infractions such as traffic or parking violations.

For many, paying a monetary sanction for a low-level violation is an annoyance. However, for the poor and people of color who are disproportionately likely to be subject to criminal justice system involvement, monetary sanctions can become a vehicle for expanded social inequality and increasingly severe criminal justice contact. Failure to pay legal financial obligations often results in court summons or license suspensions that may have attendant additional costs and may trigger incarceration. In the United States, the criminal justice system is heavily and routinely involved in the lives of low-income people of color. These already-existing biases, coupled with the deep poverty that is common in many communities, join to widen the net of criminal justice involvement by escalating low-level infractions to far more serious offenses when people are unable to pay. Despite the routine justification of monetary sanctions as less-severe penalties, if imposed without restriction on the poor, they are likely to magnify the inequality producing effects of criminal justice system involvement.

Keywords: monetary sanctions, punishment, courts, sentencing, debt, inequality


To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships.

W. E. B. Dubois, The Souls of Black Folk, 1903

Monetary sanctions are the fines, fees, surcharges, assessments, and collection charges imposed on people who come into contact with systems of criminal justice. Also known as legal financial obligations (LFOs), monetary sanctions are assessed at every level of justice from the lowest level traffic infractions to serious criminal convictions, and are imposed in courts at nearly every level of jurisdiction. These court-imposed monetary sanctions rapidly accumulate and magnify the effects on social inequality that criminal justice contact has for the poor and for communities of color (Harris, 2016). Here we outline and describe the varying layers of legal debt and discuss its relationship to inequity in the United States, though monetary sanctions have a deep history and are broadly utilized internationally (O’Malley, 2009). We also describe who these debtors are: generally people in poverty with low educational attainment and employment prospects, and disproportionately people of color. The surge in the sentencing of legal debt coupled with mass conviction has increasingly turned the criminal justice system into an engine of social inequality.


Monetary sanctions are routinely imposed on the majority of people convicted of misdemeanor and felony crimes, and are the most frequent penalty for traffic and administrative violations (Harris, 2016). For criminal offenses in the United States, monetary sanctions are sentenced in addition to the other common penalties such as community service, probation, and incarceration (Adamson, 1983; Bannon, Nagrecha, & Diller 2010; Blackmon, 2009; Oshinsky, 1997). Defendants who are also sentenced to incarceration often have little ability to make payments toward their legal financial obligations while incarcerated, and consequently, many are released from jail or prison with large amounts of debt (Harris, 2016, Harris, Evans, & Beckett, 2010, 2011). In many states, juveniles are also subject to mandatory minimum fines and fees (Feierman, Goldstein, Haney-Caron, & Fairfax, 2016). If unable to pay, people in legal debt remain closely connected to the surveillance and sanctioning of criminal justice agents and to the stigmatizing effects of their original convictions for long periods of time (Harris, 2016). The amount of monetary sanctions imposed is often substantial relative to the expected earnings of people with felony convictions. Interest and surcharges may begin accruing at the time of sentencing, and can exponentially increase the amount owed by debtors who are unable to pay quickly and in full. As a result, the monetary sanctions associated with criminal justice contact contribute to the accumulation of disadvantage by reducing family income and creating long-term debt among already marginalized populations (Harris et al., 2011).

Monetary sanctions are also imposed at the municipal level for traffic infractions or minor violations such as trespassing or panhandling. A U.S. Department of Justice report shows that despite high levels of poverty, the city of Ferguson collected $2.46 million in municipal “fines and public safety” resources in 2013, a rate of over $116 for each resident of the city (United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, 2015). The city also issued over 24,500 warrants, a rate of 1.2 warrants per capita. Many of these warrants were issued in response to nonpayment of municipal fines and fees, which included fines for failure to enter service contracts with the city’s only approved waste disposal company. Residents who were too poor to pay for garbage pick-up were fined by the city and became subject to arrest when they were unable to pay these sanctions. On March 4, 2015, the United States Attorney General, Eric Holder, described this system as “focusing on revenue over public safety, leading to court practices that violate the 14th Amendment’s due process and equal protection requirements” (U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, 2015). Fines and other monetary sanctions are also routinely imposed in federal courts. Despite the prevalence of monetary penalties in the federal system (more than $12 billion in fiscal year 2013; up to 96% of cases for some offenses), very little is known about how monetary penalties are used in federal sentencing.

Monetary sanctions are often referred to as “intermediate,” “alternative,” or “less restrictive” punishments (Gordon & Glaser, 1991; Hillsman, 1990; Morris & Tonry, 1990; 42 Pa.C.S.A § 9721). But until they are paid in full, legal debtors often remain under judicial supervision, subject to court summons, warrants, and jail stays. Many policymakers, practitioners, and researchers view monetary sanctions as similar to other alternatives to incarceration such as intensive community supervision, day reporting centers, home detention, and electronic monitoring (Gordon & Glaser, 1991; Morris & Tonry, 1990). However, monetary sanctions lead to an entirely different set of punishment consequences. For those who have the means to pay, monetary sanctions may be a minor inconvenience. However, for the poor, they can represent an onerous burden, that if unpaid can trigger serious and escalating consequences (Harris, Evans, & Beckett, 2010).

Monetary sanctions are routinely imposed in addition to incarceration (Bannon et al., 2010; Gordon & Glaser, 1991; Harris, 2016). One study found that those sentenced to jail actually received higher fines and fees than those not sentenced to jail (Gordon & Glaser, 1991). As a result of interest, fees, and surcharges that accumulate on unpaid financial penalties, this portion of a sentence can become a permanent legal punishment that extends well beyond the time to which a person was sentenced to supervision (McLean & Thompson, 2007; RCW 9.94A.760). One study of juveniles sentenced to fines and fees in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, found that the sentencing of monetary sanctions and the amount of the financial costs increase the likelihood of recidivism (Piquero & Jennings, 2016).

Monetary sanctions carry negative consequences not just for individual defendants, but also for state and local governments. Fiscal penalties lead to a tremendous amount of unpaid debt across states. In an analysis of 11 states, an estimated $178 million dollars of uncollected court costs, fees, fines, and restitution existed per state (McLean & Thompson, 2007). And, since the early 1990s, the types and amounts of fines, fees, and surcharges have dramatically expanded nationwide (ACLU, 2010; Harris, 2016; Rosenthal & Weissman, 2007). This mass of fiscal liability generates the need for public collections units, and, in some cases, leads states to rely on private collection agencies to aggressively collect outstanding debt, in practice privatizing the enforcement of court orders. The expansion of monetary sanctions has led to the creation of new bureaucratic arms within the criminal justice system, carrying with them their own fiscal costs and priorities. More research is needed to evaluate whether monetary sanctions provide a net gain to government finances. While they represent substantial revenues, more research is needed into whether the costs of enforcement, administration, and widespread social costs offset financial gains for state and local governments.

Though the total dollar amount of sentences is often staggeringly high and increases over time, those sentenced to pay lower amounts are more likely to pay back the amount in full. Additionally, those whose sanction payments are primarily directed toward restitution have been found to have lower recidivism rates (Gordon & Glaser, 1991; Ruback, Shaffer, & Logue, 2004). Higher payback rates also exist among misdemeanants when compared to felony probationers—most likely as a result of the multiple types of fiscal penalties imposed on those convicted of felonies (Wheeler & Rudolph, 1990). One study found that the amount of the fiscal penalties imposed was not related to post sentencing arrest or re-incarceration, yet, the imposed amount did increase the likelihood of probation revocation (Gordon & Glaser, 1991).

Social characteristics, like race, ethnicity, gender, and age have been found to predict the imposition of monetary sanctions during the sentencing process. For example, in Washington State, Latinos receive higher monetary sanctions than non-Latinos with similar legal backgrounds (Harris et al., 2011). Yet, in other jurisdictions, like Pennsylvania, race and ethnicity have been found to be less important than the type of offense under consideration (Ruback, Shaffer, & Logue, 2004). Drug offenses and traffic offenses had higher amount of fines and fees imposed while property crimes had a high likelihood of the imposition of restitution (Gordon & Glaser, 1991; Harris et al., 2011; Ruback & Clark, 2011; Ruback et al., 2004). Drug offenders have been found to be the least likely to be assessed fiscal penalties (Gordon & Glaser, 1991), though the increasing sentencing of fee-for-service treatment and community supervision may affect this pattern. Other characteristics such as age, gender, and occupational status consistently predict the imposition of monetary sanctions for both misdemeanors and felony offenses (Gordon & Glaser, 1991; Harris et al., 2011; Ruback & Clark, 2011).

Several administrative problems are associated with the assessment of monetary sanctions. For example, despite legal requirements to consider a defendant’s ability to pay, judges often are unable or unwilling to acknowledge financial hardships faced by many who come into contact with the criminal justice system, resulting in often unrealistic fiscal sentences (Harris, 2016). While some jurisdictions prioritize paying restitution to crime victims before directing funds into court or government coffers, others are not specific about payment priority, and the amounts paid to crime victims through restitution is likely negatively impacted. The increasing role of monetary sanctions in criminal justice has also dramatically increased the bureaucratic authority of probation officers and clerks who serve as collection officers, and may be blurring the boundaries between administrative and judicial law with consequences that were not intended by lawmakers (Harris, 2016; Ruback & Bergstrom, 2006).

The sentencing of monetary sanctions, combined with the deep poverty under which many who come into contact with the criminal justice system live, creates conditions under which many Americans will be subject to routine criminal justice contact and coercive confinement for relatively minor initial offenses. Failure to pay monetary sanctions may result in a summons for a court appearance. If defendants are unable or unwilling to make a court appearance in response to failure to pay fines and fees, a warrant may be issued for their arrest. Low-level criminal justice contact can produce escalating penalties when defendants are poor or lack the ability to routinely appear in court. For poor people, monetary sanctions lead to an additional set of punishments that trigger a long-term series of consequences and barriers to full societal integration. Justice data regularly highlight the racial disproportionality in processing and illustrate that most people are economically marginalized prior to conviction, and will experience minimal employment and income prospects post-conviction. Though we lack adequate quantitative data on the scope and impact of monetary sanctions, qualitative evidence strongly suggests that monetary sanctions have become a significant force in accelerating the economic, political, and social marginalization of the poor and people of color (Harris, 2016). One debtor from Washington described this phenomenon succinctly:

Well, basically, if I could pay for it, I wouldn’t have been in the situation that I was at to being with . . . Knowing the status that I am, being unemployed or being homeless living on the streets, being able to make payments like that is unrealistic . . . They can put any amount. If they were realistic, maybe I would try to pay it, but being $10,000 or $5,000, that’s ridiculous, you know, to even think that I’m going to be able to pay something like that, it’s unrealistic. And if they really stopped and thought about the situation that I’m coming into or going out of, they know themselves that it’s not going to be paid, and to put interest on something that’s not going to be paid, it’s just getting worse, you know?

(Harris, 2016, p. 62)

Categories of Monetary Sanctions

Below, we review the basic structure of monetary sanctions within the United States. In the United States, monetary sanctions are codified by law and imposed at all levels of jurisdiction, from municipal courts that primarily handle minor infractions and traffic violations, to state courts that handle serious felonies, to federal courts that handle felony violations of federal law. Monetary sanctions take multiple forms: Fines are explicitly intended as a punishment, fees are intended to finance the operations of the courts or criminal justice systems, surcharges and assessments are applied broadly and used to finance government operations, and restitution is used to restore harm caused by offenses to victims of crime.


Fines are financial punishments attached to a conviction for a given offense, and are either specified as a fixed dollar amount or variable range. For example, in Washington State, a first-time drug conviction can result in a $1,000 fine, with each subsequent drug convictions resulting in a $2,000 fine per conviction. The range of possible fines is highly variable for similar offenses across jurisdictions. For example, in Massachusetts, defendants convicted of a felony may be fined $500. In Arkansas, class A and B felonies carry a fine of up to $15,000. Defendants found guilty of murder, attempted murder, or sexual assault in Alaska or of “off-grid” felonies or level 1 drug crimes in Kansas can be fined up to $500,000. Apart from mandatory fines specified by legislatures, judges wield considerable discretion in setting the amount of a sentenced fine.

Court Fees

In addition to fines, states also allow criminal defendants to be charged fees contingent on the activities of the justice system in processing a case. These fees are highly variable across jurisdictions, and judges have wide latitude in their imposition. Fees may include charges for the use of a public defender, the prosecutor’s time and cost of summoning expert witnesses, a charge for requesting a jury trial, a charge for the execution of an arrest warrant by a sheriff, monthly payment processing charges, or daily charges for incarceration. For example, in Pennsylvania there are 2,629 types of monetary sanctions. Of these only 79 are fines and 2,371 (or 90%) are fees that may be imposed depending on how a case is processed. States and counties often exercise a great deal of discretion in how they design and implement fee policies in the absence of clear federal guidelines or when state guidelines provide only loose parameters for assessing them. For example, in Louisiana, felony defendants can be assessed a $300 fee for a “judicial expense fund” and a $50 fee for “special court costs.” In North Carolina, felony defendants are assessed a $154.50 “cost of justice fee” for every felony conviction. In California, every felony conviction also carries a $40 “court security fee.” Cook County, Illinois, charges a $190 per felony filing fee, and Indiana charges $120 per felony conviction as a “criminal cost fee.” States and localities often sentence defendants for the costs of collecting, recording, and storing their DNA—$200 in Illinois, $250 in Texas, and $100 in Washington.

Many jurisdictions allow for “actual court costs” and fees related to the prosecution of the defendant to be sentenced. These fees often include charges related to court and prosecution time, juries and witnesses, and warrants, as well as criminal laboratory evaluation fees. Fee amounts are generally specified as fixed amounts or ranges by statute, and may have little relationship to actual criminal justice system costs in a case. Some reformers caution that imposing fees for criminal justice services such as jury trials and public defense may effectively curtail the ability of poor defendants to obtain equal justice, as such fees create a financial disincentive to fully exercising one’s legal rights (Shafroth & Schwartzol, 2016). In many jurisdictions, judges have the ability to waive certain fees, but this is subject to legal discretion, and empirical research is needed to clarify how varying courtroom actors interpret and implement this power.

Surcharges and Assessments

States may levy surcharges and assessments on top of initial fines, fees, and costs. These costs are flat or proportional charges and are added to monetary sanctions for broad categories of convictions. Like fees, surcharges are commonly used to support courts and other government agencies, but unlike fees, surcharges are imposed regardless of the actual criminal justice services used as a case is processed. For example, Arizona imposes an 83% surcharge on all initially sentenced monetary sanctions. Of this total amount, 47% is allocated to a “criminal justice enhancement fund,” 13% to a “medical services enhancement fund,” 10% to a “clean elections fund,” 7% to a “fill the gap fund,” and 6% to fund DNA collections. A fine of $100 carries an additional $83 penalty. Arizona also assesses a “probation surcharge” of $20; thus, an initial fine of $100 results in a balance due of $203. Other states utilize similar surcharges, for example, Illinois assesses a 25% surcharge on all fines assessed, and Washington imposes a $250 Victim Penalty Assessment for all misdemeanor convictions and a $500 Victim Penalty Assessment for all felony convictions.


Restitution is used to reimburse crime victims for losses or damages caused by an offense. Restitution is generally intended to compensate victims for damage to property; medical expenses; or other costs, recognized by the court, caused by the offense. Judges often have wide latitude in sentencing restitution, although it is mandatory in some jurisdictions. Failure to pay restitution can be grounds for the revocation of parole or probation, triggering incarceration. Unlike other legal financial obligations, restitution is intended to ensure that a debtor is held directly accountable to a victim of harm caused by an offense. Unlike fines, intended explicitly and solely as a punishment, restitution is understood by legal actors as a means to pursue restorative justice.

States vary in the priority with which collected funds are directed to recipient crime victims. When debtors make payments on monetary sanctions and owe restitution, many states direct payments to victims owed restitution before any other outstanding debt. However, many states make no such prioritization, and victim’s accounts may have lower priority than accounts receiving payments on fines, fees, or surcharges (Harris, 2016).

Other Forms of Legal Debt

Juvenile Legal Debt

Legal debt is also imposed to minors processed in juvenile court. In most jurisdictions minors are those children under the age of 18 years, most of whom are not employed and have yet to finish high school. Yet, in a parallel fashion to adult criminal court, juvenile courts assess fines, penalty assessments, attorney’s fees, costs of court services, and restitution. In many instances, the debt is not only imposed to the convicted minors but their parents as well (Feierman, Goldstein, Haney-Caron, & Fairfax, 2016). Several states impose mandatory fees, fines, supervision, and diversion costs on minors and their parents. For example, Idaho imposes a one $1000 fee for each probation violation. Twenty states charge for general assessments of youth who come before the court and 12 states mandate the cost of detention or services be imposed on parents. Many of these fees are assessed based on parents’ or legal guardians’ abilities to pay. When a family is assessed as having the resources to make regular payments, judgments can be ordered, and they are legally obligated to make payments. The debt will be carried for 10 years, and clerks and prosecutors can request the court to extend the debt after the initial period. In Washington, if parents are found to have willfully failed or refused to pay, the court may proceed with contempt charges and impose related penalties (RCW 13.40.220).

As with legal debt for adults, when juveniles do not pay their legal financial obligations they can face extended court supervision, conviction, or incarceration. In NST v. Washington State (2010), a 14-year-old girl was charged with residential burglary and malicious mischief. Upon conviction, the defendant was assessed $2,630.40 in legal financial obligations and restitution. In 2006, the defendant entered a deferred disposition—meaning if she completed all the obligations of her sentence (including full payment of her monetary sanctions), the conviction would be vacated and dismissed (RCW 13.40.127). The defendant and her single mother regularly paid the court-required minimum of $10 a month, for a total of $235. However, because the debt was not paid in full in 2009 her deferred disposition was revoked, and the conviction appears on her record.

Federal Monetary Sanctions

The fiscal penalties imposed at the federal court level are similar to those assessed in state and local courthouses. Federal criminal defendants are sentenced to fines, assessments and restitution. These amounts are sentenced and a full payment date is established. When unpaid, the debt is labeled “delinquent” (30 days late) and then “defaulted” (90 days late) and additional fiscal penalties are added to the principle amount owed. In delinquent cases, a ten percent fine is added to the delinquent principle amount, and in defaulted cases, a 15% fine is added (USC Title 18 §3572). For all criminal convictions, a $100 special assessment fee is added to the fiscal penalties (USC Title 18 §3013(A)(2)(A)).

Traffic Ticket and Misdemeanor Court Legal Debt

Another common layer of legal debt experienced in the United States stems from traffic violations. The balance due on most traffic tickets include the base fine for the violation, state imposed fees, and additional monetary sanctions. For example, California imposes a 29% surcharge on all traffic tickets, an additional 100% State Penalty Assessment surcharge, a 90% County Penalty Assessment surcharge, a 50% State Court Construction surcharge, and a DNA Identification Fund Penalty Assessment surcharge of 40%. In addition to the surcharges on the base fine amount, additional fees are added, including a criminal conviction fee of $35, a court operations assessment of $40, an emergency medical air transportation penalty of $4, a night court assessment fee of $1, and an optional traffic violation school fee of $55 (enrollment in the program is contingent on additional cost of class fees). A $40 base fine for speeding results in a total amount due of $240 (Lowrey, 2012).

Nonpayment of traffic tickets frequently result in license suspension or revocation. People who do not pay their tickets are likely to be summoned to court. If they fail to appear before a judge, their licenses will be revoked, and they may have a warrant issued for their arrest. For example, the following occurred to a woman in Alabama:

Three years ago, Gina Ray, who is now 31 and unemployed, was fined $179 for speeding. She failed to show up at court (she says the ticket bore the wrong date), so her license was revoked. When she was next pulled over, she was, of course, driving without a license. By then her fees added up to more than $1,500. Unable to pay, she was handed over to a private probation company and jailed—charged an additional fee for each day behind bars. For that driving offense, Ms. Ray has been locked up three times for a total of 40 days and owes $3,170, much of it to the probation company.

(Bronner, 2012)

The regular incarceration of people who have not paid parking tickets and traffic fines is a national phenomenon. Those who are poor and unable to pay traffic tickets, but must continue to drive to work or support their families, face difficult choices between their need for transportation and fear of incarceration.

A sizable portion of states’ total misdemeanor criminal charges result from driving with suspended licenses. Many these people receive these convictions due to unpaid traffic and parking tickets and failure to appear in court. For example, in 2007 these types of cases comprise 33% of Washington State’s misdemeanor criminal cases (Moore & Chapman, 2008). The Washington State Supreme Court considered the case of an unemployed and disabled man who had been incarcerated for nonpayment of a parking ticket in 2008. He said that he needed to drive his car, and thus did so without a license. The court found Johnson as “statutorily indigent” and remanded his case to district court to designate him either as “indigent” or “indigent and able to contribute” (Washington v. Johnson (2014)). Recognizing the high number of cases, which are costly to prosecute and sanction, and also acknowledging the ways in which the law was disproportionately incarcerating poor people who were unable to pay their fees and fines, but still needed to drive, the Washington State legislature in 2012 amended the law to only allow the Department of License to suspend drivers’ license for failure to pay moving violations (RCW 46.20.342). Prior to this change in law, nonpaying debtors for both speeding and parking violations who failed to appear in court after being summoned, could be arrested and incarcerated.

Collection Costs

States also levy penalties for financing when defendants cannot pay their monetary sanctions on time and in full. More than half of states have statutes that allow additional costs related to late payments, incomplete payments, or nonpayment (Harris, 2016). Fees are charged to establish payment plans, and to make payments for late fees, and annual collection fees, surcharges, and interest are also levied. When one is unable to make full payment of their financial obligations, many state statutes include provisions for interest to accumulate on unpaid legal financial obligations. Interest rates are either fixed or determined as a variable rate that is calculated on a portion or total amount of the unpaid debt. Florida charges 4.75% interest on uncollected legal debt, Georgia charges 7%, and Washington charges 12% (Bannon et al., 2010). Jurisdictions also charge per payment fees and convenience fees. For example, the City of Seattle charges a $4 convenience fee for paying all traffic tickets online. If one makes an electronic payment in Thurston County, Washington, using a credit or debit card they will be charged a 3% “convenience” fee.1 These fees and interest result in larger balances for those who are unable to pay legal debt in full and may extend the length of time that the poor experience criminal justice system supervision.

Child Support

While child support is not the same as court-sentenced legal debt there are similar consequences for nonpayment. Nationally, incarceration for nonpayment of child support is a regular occurrence. To be sure, large amounts of court-imposed fiscal support for children has gone unpaid by absconding parents. In 2006, $105.4 billion, including the principle and interest, was owed by child support debtors (Sorensen, Sousa, & Schaner, 2007). However, evidence suggests that in many instances nonpayment is due to parents’ inability to make regular payments. A study of debtors in nine states found that almost 75% of past due noncustodial child support debtors reported no income or income of less than $10,000 a year (Sorensen et al., 2007).

Even when unable to pay, child support debtors can be found in contempt of court for nonpayment, which may result in incarceration. In addition, criminal and federal charges can be filed against nonpaying parents. Imprisonment is possible for even those parents found to be indigent. Incarceration for nonpayment has also been found to be imposed in a racially inequitable manner (Center for Family Policy and Practice Report, 2012; Miller et al. v. Deal (2011)). The maximum length of incarceration varies by state, with some jurisdictions imposing up to 180 days in county jails.

Drivers’ licenses can be suspended for nonpayment of child support, debtors owning more than $2,500 are unable to receive passports, and child support debtors may face “freezes” on their bank accounts. For instance, Marcial Herrera from New York had his bank account frozen for several years, which blocked his access to his government benefits of $800 a month. He had been unemployed since 2000 as a result of a debilitating back injury. Because he owed more than $7,000 to the state for child support, billed by the state to pay back welfare payments received by his son, he could not access his state support for disability (Urken, 2012).

The Line Between Civil- and Court-Imposed Debt

The U.S. court system can manage private debt when creditors petition the court for assistance in the collection process. This debt usually arises when some type of service or material goods were exchanged under a contract for which money was to be paid. When one does not pay their debt, the creditor can file the claim in small claims court, and a judge will assess a judgment to determine the extent of fiscal liability the nonpayer is responsible for. Criminal justice officials do not normally become involved with private debt; however, increasingly local law enforcement and state’s attorneys have been partnering with private creditors in attempts to pressure debtors to pay. In general, states prohibit the intimidation and even incarceration of civil debtors. However, several cases suggest that debtors are threatened with incarceration. For instance, California prosecutors work with private debt collection companies to formulate letters to people who have allegedly written bad checks. In the letters, actually written by the debt collection agents but printed on prosecutors’ letterhead, debtors are informed that they will be incarcerated if they continue to not pay their debts. The collection agents request the full amount of civil debt owed, but also add a fee for a “financial accountability” class; a portion of the cost is then given to the district attorneys’ offices (Urken, 2012). Along similar lines, in Missouri, private creditors use the court system to collect money from payday loan debtors (Silver-Greenberg, 2012).

Collateral Consequences for Nonpayment

Upon felony conviction, a defendant is subject to a host of legal consequences including losing the right to vote, run for public office, serve on a jury, or carry a gun. Depending on the jurisdiction of conviction, felons become ineligible for certain employment licenses, such as health care, private security, and commercial vehicle operation, and many employers are legally protected in discriminating against felon applicants (e.g., CRS 8-2-201(2)(a), FL Stat. Ann. 768.096, N.Y. Exec. Law 296 (15)). Adults and minors also become subject to “one strike” housing prohibitions and thus have limited options for where they and their families can live (Kaplan & Rossman, 2011; Parker, 2016). In many states, incarcerated felons become “civilly dead” and can lose custody of their children, have child support imposed, are easily divorced, and noncitizens can be deported (Chin, 2012). A number of financial consequences also occur with felony convictions. For example, people convicted of drug felonies lose rights to federal benefits such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) (Mauer & McCalmont, 2015). A wide range of legal consequences, above and beyond the sentenced penalties, are triggered the moment one is convicted of a felony.

In addition to the collateral consequences that result from felony convictions, people with outstanding legal financial obligations experience an additional layer of consequences. These penalties may include the suspension of drivers’ licenses, the loss of the right to vote, regular court summons, the issuance of warrants, and even incarceration. People are incarcerated not for the failure to pay, but for violating their court sentencing conditions, which include the payment of monetary sanctions. Forty-four U.S. states and the District of Columbia have statutes that allow judges to incarcerate people for unpaid or delinquent LFOs. The law governing the use of incarceration for legal debtors is ambiguous or unclear in the remaining states.

After a national movement to abolish the practice of incarcerating debtors in the 1830s, every state amended its constitution to define the incarceration of debtors without the means to make payments toward their obligations as unconstitutional. Even as state constitutions disallowed the incarceration of civil debtors, however, many still allowed for the incarceration of people who were labeled “absconding debtors” or those who had not paid “fines and penalties imposed by law” (Washington Constitution, article 1, section 17; Oregon Constitution, article 1, section 19; Missouri Constitution, article 1, section 11; Florida Constitution, article 1, section 11; Texas Constitution, article 1, section 18).

The focus on ending debtor’s prisons was about civil debtors, not about legal debtors. Most courts view the imprisonment of legal debtors—that is, the imprisonment of persons with outstanding debt from monetary sanctions—as legally allowable because such debtors are incarcerated, not because of their inability to pay, but because they are failing to comply with court orders. Rulings have affirmed that legal debtors can be held in contempt of the court, and thus incarcerated, for not fulfilling their criminal sentence, which routinely includes monetary sanctions (see Williams v. Illinois (1970)).

For example, Tate v. Short (1971) permits the incarceration of a legal debtor if a court determines that a defendant has means to make payments and can be labeled a “willful nonpayer.” Determining defendants’ ability to pay became the foci of the courts’ analyses. Bearden v. Georgia (1983) established the precedent for “willfulness.” The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Bearden, finding that the trial court erred in revoking his probation without determining whether he had made “sufficient bona fide efforts” to pay his monetary sanctions and whether alternative forms of punishment were available. Bearden restricts courts from incarcerating debtors unless their nonpayment is found to be willful, though definitions of willful nonpayment are subject to substantial judicial discretion.

As a result of the decisions in Williams v. Illinois, Tate v. Short, and Bearden v. Georgia, the concepts of “willful” nonpayment and “bona fide efforts” have become more important in state laws and in courts’ determination of the status of nonpaying defendants and whether or not they can be sentenced to incarceration. The language of court decisions stipulates that defendants who have made “reasonable,” “sufficient bona fide,” or “good faith” efforts to pay cannot be held in contempt for nonpayment. Yet defining such efforts can be difficult, and courts and court officials vary in how they go about measuring them.

Courts have determined that prior to incarcerating a defendant a judge must, at the very least, hold hearings to determine (1) whether the defendant has failed to make payments, and (2) whether the defendant has “willfully” chosen not to make payments. The questions of how to establish that nonpayment has been “willful” and what constitutes a “good faith” effort remain the focus of significant debate, and state courts continue to struggle with these issues. In practice, judges have interpreted these legal concepts as requiring defendants, even indigent and homeless, seek loans from friends, family members, and employees, or find day laborer jobs. If a debtor fails to make a payment, some counties will issue a court summons, and upon failure to respond to the summons in court, the county will issue a warrant. It is important to note that a warrant alone can lead to the loss of federal or state benefits, cause a person to lose their job, and serve as a precondition for incarceration triggered by nonpayment and failure to appear (Harris, 2016).

Some counties have institutionalized “auto-jail,” “pay or stay,” or “pay and sit” or “sitting out fines” policies related for nonpayment of monetary sanctions. Under the latter two policies, people are sentenced to a set number of days in jail and are credited a certain amount of financial “credit” toward their debt. For example, a municipal court judge in Bowdon, Georgia, required defendants to either pay $300 or stay in jail as punishment for nonpayment of their LFOs (Dewan, 2015), and some courts in Washington instituted similar policies (Harris, 2016).

These policies result in the incarceration of people who are unable to make payments on their fines and fees, but also results in added criminal justice-related costs for local jurisdictions. A report studying the court system in New Hampshire estimated that taxpayers paid $166,870 in 2013 to incarcerate 289 cases involving people who owed $75,850—money that was never collected (ACLU of New Hampshire, 2015). More research is needed to estimate the net financial effects of such policies.

People Who Encounter U.S. Systems of Justice

Understanding the layers of legal debt and the legal consequences for impoverished debtors is even more profound when we situate these practices within the massive conviction rates of the contemporary United States. Dramatic growth in conviction and incarceration has occurred in the last 40 years. The rise in incarceration has been well documented; as of 2013 there were 2 and one-quarter million people living in United States’ jails and prisons, just over 7 million people under corrections supervision, almost 20 million with a felony conviction, and an estimated 64 million Americans with a criminal record (The Sentencing Project, 2013).

While national statistics are unavailable to estimate the exact numbers of legal debtors, based on analyses of monetary sanction statutes, we know that the vast majority of the number of felony defendants have had legal debt imposed at sentencing (Harris et al., 2010). Moreover, disproportionate rates of criminal justice contact, conviction, and incarceration occurs along racial and class lines. One in 100 American adults 18 years of age and older lives behind bars. There are stark racial, gender, and ethnic inequalities: one in 106 White men, 1 in 36 Latino men, and 1 in 15 Black men live behind bars in the United States (Pettit, Sykes, & Western, 2009). In terms of education, nearly half (44%) of inmates in local jails have less than a high school diploma or GED (James, 2004; Pettit & Western, 2004). People who drop out of high school have much higher odds of being incarcerated than those with GEDs or diplomas. For example, among Black men born between 1965 and 1969, 30% without a college education and 60% without a high school diploma went to prison by 1999 (Pettit & Western, 2004). This risk of incarceration has even increased for more recent generations: for those men born between 1975 and 1979 and have dropped out of high school, an estimated 28% of White men, just over 19% of Latino men, and 68% of Black men will experience prison (Pettit, Sykes, & Western, 2009). Scholars conclude “prison time has become a normal life event for African American men who have dropped out of high school” (Western & Pettit, 2010).

In addition to overrepresentation of people of color and those with low levels of formal education, the criminal justice system manages primarily the poorest of our society. Surveys of county jails across the nation highlight the impoverished circumstances from which inmates are pulled (James, 2004). Furthermore, Western (2006) empirically demonstrates that the most socially and economically disadvantaged in our society are the most likely individuals to be involved in the criminal justice system. He shows that Black and Latino men, with low educational achievement, high unemployment, and low wages are most likely to be ensnared in the criminal justice system. Overwhelmingly, felony defendants come from poverty stricken neighborhoods, under- and unemployed contexts (Pager, Western, & Bonikowski, 2009), and have failed in their school systems (Bersani & Chapple, 2007; Kalleberg, 2013; Peterson & Krivo, 2012).

By sentencing monetary sanctions upon criminal conviction, the criminal justice system and related court systems of the United States are imposing debt to citizens who are already economically, socially, and politically marginalized and unlikely to be able to pay. In addition to these deleterious circumstances, a felony conviction results in the collateral consequences of political disenfranchisement, the loss of employment and housing opportunities, and in many instances the loss of federal financial benefits for education and social security. Imposing large amounts of debt is likely to impede the process of rehabilitation and likelihood of desistence, particularly for those who are already impoverished and have limited employment opportunities.


Research Implications

There is much we do not know about how monetary sanctions are used, what consequences they have, and why they are more common and severe in some places. Despite their central role in the routine practice of criminal justice, monetary sanctions have received very little attention from criminologists and other social scientists. Much of what we do know comes from the work of legal advocacy organizations and journalists, but significant new social scientific research is required to describe and identify the relationships between the criminal justice system and the reproduction of social inequality.

For example, we know little about the relationship between legal financial obligations and recidivism. Advocates of monetary sanctions suggest that they are a less punitive alternative than incarceration, and often serve a restorative function through restitution that may deter future crime, but qualitative research strongly suggests that sanctions create undue hardships on the already disadvantaged that may have criminogenic effects or impede desistance from crime. We also know very little about whether concurrent debts from multiple jurisdictions have additive effects on inequality. Particularly in places where small municipalities and counties overlap within a metropolitan area, it is possible that individuals may face onerous and multiple debts from a variety of jurisdictions simultaneously, which could accelerate the relationship between criminal justice and inequality. We know very little about the political economy of monetary sanctions, and there is substantial need for scholarship to identify why some jurisdictions rely more heavily on revenues from criminal justice than do others. We also lack basic descriptive facts about the scope of legal debt and the costs and benefits of widespread monetary sanctions. There is substantial room for new and impactful theoretical and empirical work in this area.

Like much other work in criminology, the empirical and theoretical focus of most research has been on the United States. However, the United States is not alone in its reliance on monetary sanctions. Fines and other financial penalties are a primary tool for criminal justice globally (O’Malley, 2009). There is a strong need for comparative research to broadly explore normative questions about appropriate uses of monetary sanctions and empirical questions about their impacts.

Policy Implications

Based on what we currently know about monetary sanctions, states should consider eliminating all non-restitution fines, fees, surcharge assessments, interest, and collection charges for felony convictions. Defendants convicted of serious felony offenses are already being held accountable with an array of punishments including incarceration, probation, community service, electronic home monitoring, various mandated services and therapies, and the collateral consequences of a conviction. With the elimination of these monetary sanctions, defendants can focus on making payments toward restitution and helping to restore the lives of their victims. Second, all justice-related debt should be collected as a civil matter. Criminal sanctions for nonpayment such as warrants and incarceration should never be used as strategies to encourage payment, because they are likely to predominately effect those least able to pay: the poor. Juvenile monetary sanctions should be applied only when they serve the rehabilitative aims of juvenile courts, and should be particularly sensitive to a family’s economic circumstances.

As these issues have recently gained public media attention and increasing academic attention, there have been several attempts to address these problems. One successful approach has been the creation of bench cards by state supreme courts to their sentencing judges. These cards outline relevant state statute and case law on applicable monetary sanctions and criteria to use in the assessment of costs, the evaluation of ability to pay, and the evaluation of willful nonpayment. Cards also outline alternatives to fines and fees and incarceration (e.g., community service) (Supreme Court of Ohio, 2015; Supreme Court of Washington, 2015). The Criminal Justice Policy Program at Harvard Law School published a series of reports that suggests other logical policy and litigation strategies to provide better protections for indigent defendants (Shafroth, Seligman, Kornya, Taylor, & Allen, 2016).

There has been some legal movement in providing protections to poor defendants in state courts. Washington State Supreme Court on March 12, 2015, made a critical decision about the way judges should impose the state’s system of monetary sanctions. In State v. Blazina, the court found that sentencing judges must conduct an “individualized inquiry into the defendant’s current and future ability to pay before the court imposes LFOs.” The opinion relied heavily on research highlighting the disproportionate way the system of monetary sanctions negatively affects poor defendants and the deleterious consequences for living with the debt. This means that if judges find that a person is homeless or unemployed, non-mandatory and non-restitution fines and fees may be waived. At the very least, the decision recognizes the undue financial burden placed on some individuals before the court, that courts should not focus on generating revenue to fund the court system, and acknowledges the problematic results this sentence brings for community reentry such as employment, housing, and finances.

Legislators in Washington State have attempted to take important steps toward addressing laws that saddle already disadvantaged people with financial debt. The state House of Representatives passed HB 1390 both in 2014 and 2015 legislative sessions, legislation that dramatically reforms Washington’s system of legal financial obligations. The proposed legislation would, among other changes, eliminate interest accrual on the non-restitution portions of monetary sanctions, prevent courts from imposing monetary sanctions on defendants who are indigent, establish standards for what constitutes willful failure to pay, and prevent people who have already been charged for a DNA extraction to be charged again.

Amnesties may also provide a limited solution to widespread legal debt. For example, in 2015 the California legislature passed a bill to implement an amnesty program for Californians who owed unpaid traffic tickets. Drivers received 50% to 80% discounts on tickets that were owed prior to January 1, 2013. Debtors were also offered installment plans in attempts to help them complete their payments. Drivers who lost their licenses because they were unable to pay their fines became eligible to have them reinstated.

Traffic fines and municipal-level citations could be calculated according to an income-based system. Many countries around the world use this day-fine system in lieu of incarceration. Within such systems, fines are calculated by multiplying the average daily wage of a defendant prior to arrest with a score assigned to the convicted offense. An amount is generated that is both proportionate to the person’s ability to pay and to the seriousness of the offense committed (Gershon, 2015).

Another direction court officials could take is to create a “credit” system for indigent defendants to make payments toward their debt. Under this system, judges would credit defendants’ justice debt accounts when they show progress to rehabilitation and the betterment of their lives. For example, judges could credit defendants $2,000 toward their debt once they have obtained their GED or high school diploma. Other types of credits could include a $500 a month “payment” for regularly attending narcotics or alcoholics anonymous meetings or for someone maintaining a regular mental health regime with a licensed practitioner. All of these create a realistic system of accountability in which indigent defendants can be held accountable for their transgressions and become rehabilitated and productive citizens through the process.

States should identify ways to prioritize public safety. They can do this by developing safety nets to support the underlying problems encountered by many who come into contact with systems of justice. Law enforcement in Seattle and King County, Washington, has implemented a transformative pre-arrest diversion program called Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) (Harris, 2011). Police can divert “frequent fliers” or nonviolent offenders who make regular contact to drug and alcohol or mental health treatment, educational programs and vocational certificates, or provide them with vouchers to clean and sober housing. Doing so helps to address the underlying problems that lead people to repeatedly encounter the criminal justice system and changes their lives in a healthy and productive manner.

Along similar lines, reentry programs could be designed to assist people released from incarceration. In addition to a bus ticket and small amount of cash, programs could provide people with state-issued identification so they can seek legal employment and support resources. Programs could help people access clean and sober housing and educational programs and needed mental and physical health and substance abuse treatment programs so they can maintain healthy regimes and access to needed medication. Research suggests that these types of programs reduce recidivism, and in turn reduce the overall costs of criminal justice both administratively and socially (Harris, 2011).

Further Reading

Gordon, M. A., & Glaser, D. (1991). The use and effects of financial penalties in municipal courts. Criminology, 29(4), 651–676.Find this resource:

    Harris, A. (2016). A pound of flesh: Monetary sanctions as punishment for the poor. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Find this resource:

      O’Malley, P. (2009). The currency of justice: Fines and damages in consumer societies. New York: Routledge-Cavendish.Find this resource:

        Piquero, A. R., & Jennings, W. G. (2016). Research note: Justice system-imposed financial penalties increase the likelihood of recidivism in a sample of adolescent offenders. Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice.Find this resource:

          U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. (2015). Justice Department announces findings of two civil rights investigations in Ferguson, Missouri. Retrieved from


          Adamson, C. R. (1983). Punishment after slavery: Southern state penal systems, 1865–1890. Social Problems, 30(5), 555–569.Find this resource:

            American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Hampshire. 2015, September. Debtors’ Prisons in New Hampshire. Concord: ACLU. Retrieved from this resource:

              American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). (2010, October). In for a penny: The rise of America’s new debtors prisons. New York: ACLU. Available at this resource:

                Bannon, A., Nagrecha, M., & Diller, R. (2010). Criminal justice debt: A barrier to reentry. New York: New York University School of Law, Brennan Center for Justice. Retrieved from this resource:

                  Bersani, B. E., & Chapple, C. L. (2007). School failure as an adolescent turning point. Sociological Focus, 40(4), 370–391.Find this resource:

                    Blackmon, D. A. (2009). Slavery by another name: The re-enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II. New York: Anchor Books.Find this resource:

                      Bronner, E. (2012, July 2). Poor and in jail as companies add huge fees for probation. New York Times. Retrieved from this resource:

                        Chin, G. J. (2012). The new civil death: Rethinking punishment in the era of mass conviction. University of Pennsylvania Law Review, 160, 1789–2189.Find this resource:

                          Confronting criminal justice debt: A guide for policy reform. (2016, September). Report prepared by The Criminal Justice Policy Program, Harvard Law School, Cambridge, MA. Retrieved from this resource:

                            Dewan, S. (2015, September 4). A surreptitious courtroom video prompts changes in a Georgia town. New York Times. Retrieved from this resource:

                              Feierman, J., Goldstein, N., Haney-Caron, E., & Fairfax, J. (2016). Debtors’ prison for kids? The high cost of fines and fees in the juvenile justice system. Juvenile Law Center. Philadelphia, PA. Retrieved from this resource:

                                Gershon, L. (2015, May 6). Could day fine improve the U.S. justice system? JSTOR Daily. Retrieved from this resource:

                                  Gordon, M. A., & Daniel, G. (1991). The use and effects of financial penalties in municipal courts. Criminology, 29(4), 651–676. Retrieved from this resource:

                                    Harris, A., Evans, H., & Beckett, K. (2011). Courtesy stigma and monetary sanctions: Toward a socio-cultural theory of punishment. American Sociological Review, 76(2), 234–264. Retrieved from this resource:

                                      Harris, A. (2011). Constructing clean dreams: Accounts, future selves, and social and structural support as desistance work. Symbolic Interaction, 34(1), 63–85.Find this resource:

                                        Harris, A. (2016). A pound of flesh: Monetary sanctions as punishment for the poor. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Find this resource:

                                          Harris, A., Evans, H., & Beckett, K. (2010). Drawing blood from stones: Legal debt and social inequality in the contemporary United States. American Journal of Sociology, 115(6), 1753–1799. Retrieved from this resource:

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                                                Kalleberg, A. L. (2013). Good jobs, bad jobs: The rise of polarized and precarious employment systems in the United States, 1970s to 2000s. 1. Papercover ed. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Find this resource:

                                                  Kaplan, W., & Rossman, D. (2011). Called “out” at home: The one strike eviction policy and juvenile court. Duke Forum for Law and Social Change, 3, 109–138.Find this resource:

                                                    Lowrey, B. (2012, August 18). How your $35 speeding ticket becomes a $235 fine. San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved from this resource:

                                                      Mauer, M., & McCalmont, V. (2015). A lifetime of punishment: The impact of the felony drug ban on welfare benefits. Washington DC: The Sentencing Project. Retrieved from this resource:

                                                        McLean, R. L., & Thompson, M. D. (2007). Repaying debts. New York: Council of State Governments Justice Center.Find this resource:

                                                          Moore J., & Chapman, D. (2008). Driving while license suspended 3rd Degree Survey of Courts of Limited Jurisdiction. Washington State Office of Public Defense. Retrieved September 9, 2016, from this resource:

                                                            Morris, N., & Tonry, M. H. (1990). Between prison and probation: Intermediate punishments in a rational sentencing system. New York: Oxford University Press.Find this resource:

                                                              O’Malley, P. (2009a). The currency of justice: Fines and damages in consumer societies. Abingdon, U.K.: Routledge-Cavendish.Find this resource:

                                                                O’Malley, P. (2009b). Theorizing fines. Punishment & Society, 11(1), 67–83.Find this resource:

                                                                  Oshinsky, D. M. (1997). Worse than slavery: Parchman Farm and the ordeal of Jim Crow justice. 1st ed. New York: Free Press.Find this resource:

                                                                    Pager, D., Western, B., & Bonikowski, B. (2009). “Discrimination in a Low-Wage Labor Market A Field Experiment.” American Sociological Review, 74(5), 777–799.Find this resource:

                                                                      Parker, K. B. (2016). The missing pieces in federal reentry courts: A model for success. Drexel Law Review, 8, 397–424.Find this resource:

                                                                        Peterson, R. D., & Krivo, L. J. (2012). Divergent social worlds: Neighborhood crime and the racial-spatial divide. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Find this resource:

                                                                          Pettit, B., Sykes, B., & Western, B. (2009). Technical report on revised population estimates and NLSY 79 analysis tables for the Pew public safety and mobility project. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Find this resource:

                                                                            Pettit, B., & Western, B. (2004). Mass imprisonment and the life course: Race and class inequality in U.S. incarceration. American Sociological Review, 69(2), 151–169.Find this resource:

                                                                              Piquero, A. R., & Jennings, W. G. (2016). Research note: Justice system-imposed financial penalties increase the likelihood of recidivism in a sample of adolescent offenders. Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice.Find this resource:

                                                                                Rosenthal, A., & Weissman, M. (2007). Sentencing for dollars: The financial consequences of a criminal conviction. Syracuse, NY: Center for Community Alternatives, Justice Strategies.Find this resource:

                                                                                  Ruback, B. R., & Clark, V. (2011). Economic sanctions in Pennsylvania: Complex and inconsistent. Duquesne Law Review, 49, 751–785.Find this resource:

                                                                                    Ruback, R. B., & Bergstrom, M. (2006). Economic sanctions in criminal justice: Purposes, effects, and implications. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 33(2), 242–273. Retrieved from this resource:

                                                                                      Ruback, R. B., Shaffer, J. N., & Logue, M. A. (2004). The imposition and effects of restitution in four Pennsylvania counties: Effects of size of county and specialized collection units. Crime & Delinquency, 50(2), 168–188.Find this resource:

                                                                                        Shafroth, A., & Schwartzol, L. (2016, September). Confronting criminal justice debt: The urgent need for comprehensive reform. Report prepared by The Criminal Justice Policy Program, Harvard Law School, Cambridge, MA. Retrieved from this resource:

                                                                                          Shafroth, A., Seligman, D., Kornya, A., Taylor, R., & Allen, N. (2016, September). Confronting criminal justice debt: A guide for litigation. Report prepared by The National Consumer Law Center, Boston, MA. Retrieved from this resource:

                                                                                            Silver-Greenberg, J. (2012, September 15). In prosecutors, debt collectors find a partner. New York Times. Retrieved from this resource:

                                                                                              Sorensen, E., Sousa, L., & Schaner, S. G. (2007). Assessing child support arrears in nine large states and the nation. Washington, DC: The Urban Institute. Retrieved from this resource:

                                                                                                Supreme Court of Ohio. (2015). Collection of fines and court costs in adult trial courts. Retrieved from

                                                                                                Supreme Court of Washington. (2015). Reference guide on legal financial obligations (LFOs). Retrieved from

                                                                                                The Sentencing Project. (2013). Report of the sentencing project to the United Nations Human Rights Committee: Regarding racial disparities in the United States criminal justice system. Washington, DC. Retrieved from this resource:

                                                                                                  United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. (2015). Investigation of the Ferguson police department. United States Department of Justice, Washington, DC. Retrieved from this resource:

                                                                                                    Urken, R. K. (2012, August 30). Debtors’ prison is back—and just as cruel as ever. Daily Finance AOL News. Retrieved from this resource:

                                                                                                      U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. (2015). Justice Department announces findings of two civil rights investigations in Ferguson, Missouri. Retrieved from

                                                                                                      Western, B., & Pettit, B. (2010). Incarceration & social inequality. Daedalus, 139(3), 8–19. Retrieved from this resource:

                                                                                                        Wheeler, G. R., & Rudolph, A. S. (1990). New strategies to improve probation officers’ fee collection rates: A field study in performance feedback. Justice System Journal, 14(1), 78–94. Retrieved from this resource:

                                                                                                          Cases Referenced

                                                                                                          Bearden v. Georgia, 461 U.S. 660, 103 S. Ct. 2064, 76 L. Ed. 2d 221 (1983).Find this resource:

                                                                                                            Miller v. Deal, 761 S.E.2d 274, 295 Ga. 504 (2014).Find this resource:

                                                                                                              State v. Blazina, 344 P.3d 680, 182 Wash. 2d 827 (2015).Find this resource:

                                                                                                                State v. Johnson, 315 P.3d 1090, 179 Wash. 2d 534 (2014).Find this resource:

                                                                                                                  State v. NST, 232 P.3d 584, 156 Wash. App. 444 (Ct. App. 2010).Find this resource:

                                                                                                                    Tate v. Short, 401 U.S. 395, 91 S. Ct. 668, 28 L. Ed. 2d 130 (1971).Find this resource:

                                                                                                                      Williams v. Illinois, 399 U.S. 235, 90 S. Ct. 2018, 26 L. Ed. 2d 586 (1970).Find this resource: