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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.

This report exam­ines prac­tices in the fifteen states with the highest prison popu­la­tions, which to­gether account for more than 60 percent of all state crim­inal filings. We focused primar­ily on the prolif­er­a­tion of “user fees, ” finan­cial oblig­a­tions imposed not for any tradi­tional crim­inal justice purpose such as punish­ment, deterrence, or rehab­il­it­a­tion but rather to fund tight state budgets.

Across the board, we found that states are intro­du­cing new user fees, rais­ing the dollar amounts of exist­ing fees, and intensi­fy­ing the collec­tion of fees and other forms of crim­inal justice debt such as fines and resti­tu­tion. But in the rush to collect, made all the more intense by the fiscal crises in many states, no one is consid­er­ing the ways in which the result­ing debt can under­mine reentry prospects, pave the way back to prison or jail, and result in yet more costs to the public.

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Brennan Center for Justice



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