The Uphill Slide

There is always something.

Court Costs


My son was released from jail owing over $5000. He had no money, no job, and much poorer prospects for earning a living than when this ordeal began. He was lucky to have a home and family. When I looked at the itemized bill, I asked, “Who are all these people taking a piece of my son?” Many of these fees are the result of going to trial. It seemed like an additional penalty for daring to defend himself against false accusations.  Any accused knows that a surer and cheaper alternative to trial is a plea, and costs seem to be just one of the disincentives to defending yourself.

So how are they collecting from those who are convicted and receive long sentences? Who pays their court costs? Does the bill wait until parole (which will also incur fees and continue to incur them). If you do not pay, then you get hauled back into court to explain; and in the process add more fees to that debt you cannot or will not (because certainly there are ex-felons just like others in our society who do not pay the bills they receive whether fair or unfair). A person might ask him/herself if it is even possible to climb out of this hole? Some may say ‘why bother because I can never be free of this debt.’  Perhaps this is a version of the old ‘company store’ for workers that kept them forever in debt to their employer.

Certainly this is a system driven by money and collecting from those the least able to pay—a system setting up people for failure.

Here are a couple excepts and a link to a Huffington Post The Blog article:

How Our User-Pay Justice System Drives Mass Incarceration

.  . . So when the judges try to hold on to misdemeanor marijuana cases or resist releasing low-risk defendants without a financial bail, they may be seeking to hold defendants accountable, but the difficult truth is that they’re preserving a steady stream of revenue. Writ large, this system represents an extraordinarily regressive tax—a transfer of scarce assets from poor communities to government institutions and commercial interests.

Sound familiar? It should. It is well known that economic incentives drive growth in many aspects of the justice system. Private corrections companies, correctional unions, and officials seeking to support local economies help drive the building and use of prisons and jails. But too few know that justice systems throughout the country have become bloated on over-arrest and over-detention, in part because they have been starved of other revenue streams and have mutated into money-hungry industries. These systems fuel mass incarceration by tapping the greatest possible revenues, with terrible consequences for those tapped: poor people, particularly in communities of color. Many blame the people who keep cycling through the system door, arrest after arrest. Few are aware of the cyclical behavior of legislators and criminal justice system actors who have created and become dependent on the revenues that are generated, arrest after arrest. The economics of criminalization and incarceration is an insufficiently understood driver of mass incarceration which we must begin to unpack and roll back.”


and then from Brennan Center for Justice 2010 report are a couple excerpts and link to:

Criminal Justice Debt:  A Barrier to Reentry

“. .  . Many states are imposing new and often onerous “user fees” on individuals with criminal convictions. Yet far from being easy money, these fees impose severe – and often hidden – costs on communities,  taxpayers, and indigent people convicted of crimes. They create new paths to prison for those unable to pay their debts and make it harder to find employment and housing as well to meet child support obligations.

“. . . One person in Pennsylvania faced $2,464 in fees alone, approximately three times the amount imposed for fines and restition. In some states, local government fees, on top of state-wide fees, add to fee burdens. Thirteen of the fifteen states also charge poor people public defender fees simply for exercising their constitutional right to counsel. This practice can push defendants to waive counsel, raising constitutional questions and leading to wrongful convictions, over-incarceration, and significant burdens on the operation of the courts.  . . .”

” . . . Criminal justice debt significantly hobbles a person’s chances to reenter society successfully after a conviction. In all fifteen of theexamined states, criminal justice debt and related collection practices create a significant barrier for individuals seeking to rebuild their lives after a criminal conviction. For example, eight of the fifteen states suspend driving privileges for missed debt payments, a practice that can make it impossible for people to work and that can lead to new convictions for driving with a suspended license. Seven states require individuals to pay off criminal justice debt before they can regain their eligibility to vote. And in all fifteen states, criminal justice debt and associated collection practices can damage credit and interfere with other commitments, such as child support obligations.



Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *.