Criminal justice systems across the nation have imposed burdensome fines, fees, court costs, and other debts onto residents, creating a two-tier justice system with human, economic, and public safety consequences. These state and local government fines and fees have been rising in both frequency and amount. Faced with the need to raise revenue, governments have increased fines and fees, introduced new ones, and intensified collection efforts. Aggressive collection measures available to state and local governments include suspending drivers’ licenses and excluding debtors from public employment. Furthermore, these debts fall disproportionally on low-income and minority communities, often resulting in an inability to pay for other basic needs and necessities.
Tackling a challenge as systemic and burdensome government fines and fees requires us to obtain fully informed, on-the-ground understanding of how it impacts real people in real American cities. While solutions should be aimed at state and local governments, nonprofits and community organizations also play a key role in supporting those who are struggling with fines and fees, and advocating for change.