The High Price of Using Justice Fines and Fees to Fund Government


Fines and fees imposed by state, county, and municipal justice systems place an enormous financial burden on the people who are charged and pay them—disproportionately Black and brown people and people with low incomes. People who cannot pay risk a spiraling set of consequences—such as losing their driver’s licenses—and ultimately owing even more money if their debt is sent to private debt collectors. However, for all the harm caused, revenue collected through fines and fees typically make up a tiny fraction of government budgets.

This series of research reports details the numerous fines and fees levied by government bodies in Florida, New Mexico, New York, Virginia, and Washington State—revealing the cumulative toll they take on people. As state and local governments prepare budgets that are under increased stress from the COVID-19 crisis, it is more important than ever for taxpayers to understand how their governments are profiting from the collection of fines and fees.


City Jail Populations Are Falling, So Why Are Their Budgets Increasing?

Jail populations in big cities have declined nearly 30 percent in the last decade, fueled by a growing recognition of the brutal realities of jail. Its injustices are crystallized in the stories of people like Kalief Browder—who, at 16, spent three years in jail awaiting trial for allegedly stealing a backpack and died by suicide after his release. ...

Blog Post
  • Christian Henrichson
    Christian Henrichson
  • Nazish Dholakia
    Nazish Dholakia
March 25, 2021
Blog Post

Close the Atlanta City Detention Center and Deliver Long-term Public Safety

In September 2020, the City of Atlanta engaged the Vera Institute of Justice (Vera) to chart a path to close the Atlanta City Detention Center (ACDC). Vera met with key justice system stakeholders, service providers, and community advocates; analyzed data; and brought to bear evidence and examples from across the country to develop a strategy to re ...

  • Amy Cross, Elizabeth Swavola, Melvin Washington II, Sandhya Kajeepeta, Alex Boldin
March 01, 2021