Oct 4, 2010

When a Debt Goes Unpaid: The Impact of Surcharges, Fees, and Incarceration on Reentry

Over the last few weeks, three studies have been published that explore the costs of  involvement with the criminal justice system that linger far after a person has served their time for an offense.

The Pew Center's recent study, Collateral Costs: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility, details the often hidden consequences of an individuals conviction on their potential for economic achievement upon reentry. Among other findings, the report concluded that former inmates make 40% less than prior to incarceration and that  incarceration will cost a former inmate (on average) 9 weeks of employment a year and $1.76 per hour in pay, for a total loss of $15,600 per year.  The study also examines the profound impact the decreased earning potential of former inmates has on a family's ability to escape poverty.

The Brennan Center for Justice and the ACLU both released their own studies this week, detailing the types of fees defendants are forced to pay regardless of indigence, often leading to deeper involvement in the criminal justice system. The Brennan's study,  "Criminal Justice Debt: A Barrier to Reentry," explore fees imposed on indigent individuals when they exercise the right to counsel guaranteed in the Constitution, restitution fees, court surcharges, and parole fees. The ACLU study, In for a Penny, The Rise of a America's New Debtor Prison,   presents the results of a "yearlong investigation into modern-day "debtors' prisons," and shows that poor defendants are being jailed at increasingly alarming rates for failing to pay legal debts they can never hope to afford."