Reforming How Courts Deal With Fines and Fees

posted by Judge_Burke @ 16:02 PM
September 6, 2019

There is a  new report from The Criminal Justice Policy Program at Harvard Law School on fine and fee reform. Many jurisdictions have made major changes on how they approach fines and fees. Suffice it to say there is no simple solution.   Here is how the 80-page report is described on this webpage:

Proportionate Financial Sanctions: Policy Prescriptions for Judicial Reform sets forth a new vision for the role courts must play in ensuring proportionate policies and practices for imposing and enforcing monetary sanctions.  This report is a tool for judges, lawmakers, practitioners, and advocates who are pushing for changes in state and local courts, and offers concrete reforms that judges can implement on their own, without legislative action, to ensure that financial sanctions are more proportionate and fair, and to prevent the worst harms that excessive fines and fees can create for poor people.  Adoption of CJPP’s recommended reforms would, on the whole, transform judges’ thinking about monetary sanctions and their impact on the poor.

Overall, the goal of this new framework is to move judicial culture away from the punitive nature of current systems, and towards policies and practices built on proportionality, fairness, and the desire to see individuals complete their sentences and move on with their lives.  While recognizing the need for certain foundational changes (such as eliminating all revenue-raising fees and surcharges, and decreasing the number of cases in the system through decriminalization and diversion), this report details specific actions that can and should be taken immediately by the courts to reduce the consequences of disproportionate monetary sanctions, absent legislative action. Using CJPP’s experience working with different jurisdictions and other reform efforts nationwide as a guide, this report advocates for holistic, comprehensive, and meaningful changes to how courts think about proportionate sentencing, alternatives to payment, monitoring of payment, responses to non-payment, and punitive enforcement mechanisms.  If implemented robustly, these reforms would radically change individuals’ experiences with criminal legal systems.


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