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Council of Economic Advisers Issue Brief

  • Fines, Fees, and Bail: Payments in the Criminal Justice System That Disproportionately Impact the Poor

    "As the use of fixed monetary penalties has increased, many observers have raised concerns about the equity, legality and efficiency of these regressive payments. At the same time, meaningful reforms could increase equity without sacrificing deterrent impacts of these payments or the goal of supporting criminal justice operations ... [This document examines] the use and impact of fines, fees and bail, and highlight[s] potential options for reform" (p. 2). Sections cover: what fines, fees, and bail are; fines and fees-rising criminal justice budgets have motivated growth in these, the use and size of fees have increased over time, fines and fees are regressive payments that disproportionately impact the poor, fines and fees impose large financial and human costs on poor offenders, collection of fines and fees is often inefficient, reforming fines and fees could potentially increase both equity and efficiency; and bail-the use and size of bail bonds has increased over time, leading to increased pretrial detention of defendants leading to increased pretrial detention of defendants, bail assignments are regressive, leading to pretrial detention of the poorest rather than the most dangerous defendants, pretrial detention of low risk offenders is costly to taxpayers and defendants, and a number of bail reform options could both increase fairness and reduce pretrial misconduct.