Fines and Fees Initiative

Organizing to end the predatory and discriminatory practice of fines and fees

Jurisdictions across the country charge people fines and fees for low-level offenses, ranging from driving with a suspended license to jaywalking, and for simply engaging with the criminal legal system. This practice disproportionately punishes the most vulnerable people—especially Black people and those living in poverty—creating cycles of debt and incarceration for small, nonviolent offenses. Our team at Vera is working with impacted people, community leaders, and experts to uncover the true costs and harms of fines and fees in states across the country and to develop and enact policy reforms that end this discriminatory practice.

Delivering research and policy wins to end devastating financial burdens

Since 2019, we’ve gathered and analyzed never-before-collected data on the staggering amounts that people paid in fines and fees in 2,000 jurisdictions across five states: Florida, New Mexico, New York, Virginia, and Washington. We found that more than $2 billion was collected in fines and fees across those five states in 2019, but that this amount made up a tiny share—typically less than 1 percent—of all government revenues.

Just five states collected more than two billion dollars combined in fines and fees in 2019

We’ve used this research to inform our efforts to end the predatory practice through policy reform. Our team at Vera, in collaboration with partner groups, is proud to have helped deliver legislative wins in four of our five target states:

  • New Mexico eliminated most juvenile fines and fees in the state.
  • Virginia eliminated the fee to participate in a payment plan and extended the period before interest is charged on unpaid debt.
  • Washington passed a partial end to license suspension.
  • New York ended driver’s license suspensions for nonpayment of traffic tickets.

We’re continuing to build on this progress to substantially reduce the amount of wealth extracted from BIPOC and low-income communities due to criminal legal involvement. Our next goals include ending most costs for those who need a public defender in New Mexico, addressing lingering court debt in Virginia, and giving judges more discretion to waive fines and fees in Washington.

Contact us
Chris Mai Former Program Manager (212)-334-1300
Maria Rafael Senior Research Associate