In 2015, government agencies in New Orleans collected $4.5 million in the form of bail, fines and fees from people involved in the criminal justice system and, by extension, from their families. Another $4.7 million was transferred from the pockets of residents to for-profit bail bond agents. These costs have become the subject of considerable public attention. Because many “users” of the system have very low incomes or none at all, there is growing concern that charging for justice amounts to criminalizing poverty, especially when people who can’t pay become further entangled in the justice system. In 2015, the city spent $6.4 million to incarcerate people who couldn’t pay bail or conviction fines and fees. By focusing on bail decisions and fines and fees assessed at conviction, Past Due, and its accompanying technical report, reveals the costs and other consequences of a system that tries to extract money from low-income people and then jails them when they can’t pay.
In New Orleans, as in many cities around the country, nearly every phase of the criminal justice system imposes a financial cost on the users of that system, even before they are convicted of a crime. These costs take a steep toll on the people they impact, often including jail time, and on the city and taxpayers who bear the cost of that incarceration.
Bail, fines and fees are not calibrated to reflect a person’s ability to pay, which means poor defendants risk getting further entangled in the criminal justice system.
When people can’t pay, they often spend time in jail. This incarceration costs the city more than the revenue criminal justice agencies collect from bail, fines and fees.
Defendants and their families paid over $9 million in 2015 in bail, fines and fees. This represents an enormous transfer of wealth from primarily poor, black communities to government agencies and the for-profit bail bond industry.
Of the $3.8 million in conviction fines and fees judges imposed in 2015, black residents were charged 69%, or $2.7 million.
On any given day in 2015, 558 people were in jail because they couldn’t pay bail or were arrested for unpaid fines and fees; this was close to 1/3 of the entire jail population in New Orleans.
While government agencies in New Orleans collected $4.5 million in revenue from bail, fines and fees, it cost the city $6.4 million to jail people who couldn’t pay these costs.
Examining the Costs and Consequences of Charging for Justice in New Orleans
Bail, Fines, and Fees
A look at how bail, fines, and fees in the criminal justice system impact poor communities in New Orleans
The New Orleans criminal justice system, like many other local systems across the country, operates significantly on funding generated from the people cycling through it—from bail and associated fees before trial, to fines and fees levied after conviction. These practices come with hidden costs to defendants—the majority of whom are poor and black—...
Examining the True Costs of the User-Pay Justice System in New Orleans
Past Due investigates a significant, widespread matter of injustice in New Orleans and throughout the country: the routine imposition of financial bail and sentencing fines and fees on mostly indigent criminal defendants. These practices come with hidden costs to defendants and taxpayers alike, from collections costs to jail time. We will measure t...