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August 22, 2014

"The Debt Penalty: Exposing the Financial Barriers to Offender Reintegration"

The title of this post is the title of this intriguing new paper authored by Douglas Evans with the Center for Research and Evaluation at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.  Here is the paper's summary:

Financial debt associated with legal system involvement is a pressing issue that affects the criminal justice system, offenders, and taxpayers.  Mere contact with the criminal justice system often results in fees and fines that increase with progression through the system.  Criminal justice fines and fees punish offenders and are designed to generate revenue for legal systems that are operating on limited budgets.  However, fines and fees often fail to accomplish this second goal because many offenders are too poor to pay them.

To compound their financial struggles, offenders may be subject to other financial obligations, such as child support payments and restitution requirements.  If they do not pay their financial obligations, they may be subject to late fees and interest requirements, all of which accumulate into massive debt over time.  Even if they want to pay, offenders have limited prospects for meaningful employment and face wage disparities resulting from their criminal history, which makes it even more difficult to pay off their debt.

An inability to pay off financial debt increases the possibility that offenders will commit new offenses and return to the criminal justice system.  Some courts re-incarcerate offenders simply because they are unable to settle their financial obligations.  Imposing financial obligations and monetary penalties on offenders — a group that is overwhelmingly indigent — is not tenable.  States often expend more resources attempting to recoup outstanding debt from offenders than they are able to collect from those who pay.  This report explores the causes and effects of perpetual criminal debt and offers solutions for encouraging ex-offender payment.

August 22, 2014 at 03:19 PM | Permalink


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True story. The fines end up to be a snow ball effect. When your in jail or prison, you arent earning any money. Many had low paying jobs to begin with.

Huge fines $1500 for driving with owis and or fines for room and board while in jail mount quickly.

For most of us, $1k, is easily manageable. When your broke, its unreachable.

For some the climb out is not possible without doing more crime. Then more of the same. Too steep a sloop to to climb.. End of story. Its a shame.

Posted by: Midwest Guy | Aug 23, 2014 2:49:59 AM

This is an excellent article. I'm a former lawyer and inmate. Hitting inmates with debts like the ones mentioned here is perpetual punishment, and the offenders are stuck. On the federal level, there is no check on the power of the probation officer whose job is to squeeze the offender for money. I have two friends in Mississippi who have the same probation officer, and his demands are insane. He has one guy paying over 60% of his net paycheck towards his restitution. I researched the law to try and help him and found a case where the judge agreed with an officer's demand for 90% of an offender's pay. As for child support, I overpaid mine by hundreds of thousands of dollars before I went to camp, but the judge refused to suspend my obligation, saying that my incarceration was a voluntary act, "like working at Wal-Mart and then deciding to walk away", so I accumulated a debt of $1,280 a month while I was making $15.50 a month at camp. Its all about punishment.

Posted by: Barry | Aug 23, 2014 9:30:47 AM

I sympathize with Barry, a lawyer victim of the vile feminist lawyer and its vile male running dogs. I have often argues that the extermination of the hierarchy of these internal traitors after an hour's fair trial will benefit the lawyer profession twice as much as the oppressed public, and the judges three times as much.

Yet, I have to disagree, with his, "It's all about punishment." I invite all students to sit in Traffic Court for a morning. See the judge come down hard on rich defendants. See penniless illegal aliens choose jail time at $50 a day, and have the judge dismiss the charges sua sponte. The prosecution stays absolutely silent.

It's all about the money, with a rate of $20,000 in paid fines for that morning in Traffic Curt.

Two important sentencing subjects never covered in this blog, treason, and traffic offenses, the latter reaching most families in the nation.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 24, 2014 11:25:08 AM

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