Resolution on Criminal Justice Fines and Fees
This Resolution supports ensuring that fines and fees imposed by the criminal justice system are reasonable, transparent, and proportionate, and not in conflict with the goals of improving public safety, reducing recidivism, ensuring victims receive restitution, and enabling offenders and ex-offenders to meet obligations to their families, especially children.
Whereas, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is committed to developing effective criminal justice policies that hold offenders accountable while maximizing results for public safety, victims, and taxpayers; and
WHEREAS, reasonable and proportionate fines are often appropriate to penalize conduct that is appropriately criminal and reasonable and proportionate fees can be appropriate mechanisms for offsetting taxpayers’ costs for such functions as probation and drug court provided those who are simply unable to pay are not excluded on that basis; and
WHEREAS, excessive criminal justice financial obligations can contribute to unnecessary incarceration as some studies have found 20 percent of those in local jails are incarcerated because of failure to pay a fine or fee, which can make it even harder for the person to obtain employment and add to the burden on taxpayers; and
WHEREAS, excessive reliance on overly punitive fines and fees can encourage law enforcement and corrections decisions to be made on grounds other than public safety while undermining public confidence in the integrity of the criminal justice system; and
WHEREAS, people are sometimes arrested for failure to pay fine-only misdemeanors;
Therefore Be It Resolved that the first funds collected from an offender should go to victim restitution so that it is prioritized over money for government entities;
Therefore Be It Resolved that fees collected from offenders should be used to cover court costs, supervision, and treatment;
Therefore Be It Resolved that when imposing fines and fees the offender’s ability to pay should be taken into account as one factor and arrangements such as discharging financial obligations through payment plans and community service should be offered;
Therefore Be It Resolved that individuals who have demonstrated exemplary conduct, met all obligations of community supervision and otherwise would be discharged should not be kept on supervision solely because they owe funds that they are not able to pay and instead these obligations should be converted into a civil debt;
Therefore Be It Resolved that all jurisdictions should be fully transparent when it comes to the types and amounts of fines and fees they impose, the mechanisms used and costs involved in collections, and how the money collected is spent and percentage of the municipal budget;
Therefore Be It Resolved that failure to pay a financial obligation should not be grounds for revoking a person’s probation or parole if the person lacks sufficient earnings and assets to make such payments.
Therefore Be It Resolved that incarceration should only be used as a last resort for failure to pay a fine for a fine-only misdemeanor offense such as a traffic violation and only after the person has failed to respond to repeated efforts to contact them and make arrangements such as a payment plan for discharging the debt.
Therefore Be It Resolved that jurisdictions should review misdemeanors to identify those that involve conduct which should not be regulated by government or should only be subject to civil penalties, and therefore would no longer trigger arrest and incarceration upon failure to promptly pay the obligation.