The Burden of Court Debt on Washingtonians


People who are convicted in the criminal legal system routinely face fines, fees, and other legal financial obligations (LFOs) they are ordered to pay at sentencing. These costs can amount to hundreds or thousands of dollars for a single conviction, and most Washingtonians struggle to pay them. When someone cannot pay their LFOs, they can be met with a range of serious consequences, including jail time.

This research uses LFO data from Washington’s Administrative Office of the Courts to explore patterns in assessment and payment of court debt within the state’s criminal courts. The findings highlight the dismal outlook for LFO repayment and underscore significant impacts that long- term court debt has on Washingtonians who do not have the economic means to move past a conviction. Lastly, the report offers recommendations for legislative action that could provide relief for people burdened by debt from LFOs in Washington.

Key Takeaway

Nearly every person convicted in a Washington court faces the heavy burden of court debt, and the harms associated with nonpayment of LFOs are shouldered mainly by those who are already navigating poverty. People who are unable to pay face long-term financial consequences and continued system involvement for having unpaid LFOs.

Key Facts