Understanding Criminal Justice Debt

Understanding Criminal Justice Debt


“Reintegration involves first finding ways to meet basic material needs for food and housing and, ideally, expands to encompass economic stability and mobility, and becoming a full participant in social, economic, political, and cultural life of one’s family, community, and nation.”  – from Criminal Justice Debt: Costs & Consequences

In the United States today, people owe local, state, and federal governments billions of dollars in unpaid debt related to contact with the criminal justice system. “Criminal Justice Debt” is a broad term used to encompass the debt incurred from Criminal Justice Financial Obligations (CJFOs), comprising fines, surcharges, fees, costs, restitution, and any other monetary liability that accompany contact with the criminal justice system.

This debt stems from a system that is complex, vast, and growing. While the issue of fines, fees, and their deleterious effects on individuals and communities is starting to emerge in national discourse, we need to understand the personal realities of having criminal justice debt, in order to truly advance sound policy in this domain.

A father, grandfather, and son share a touching moment of connection.

To that end, The Fortune Society partnered with a researcher from the CUNY—John Jay College of Criminal Justice to find answers to the following research questions:

1. What is the experience of having criminal justice debt?
2. How does criminal justice debt affect family relations?
3. What is the relationship between criminal justice debt and the goals of reentry?

Over the course of 24 months, from December 2014 to December 2016, researchers interviewed 61 Fortune participants, all of whom had some experience with CJFOs. Learn more about this research, the findings, and its policy implications for CJFOs—read the full report below:

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