The criminal justice system has increasingly imposed fees, costs, and charges as well as fines and restitution amounts, on people who are convicted, or sometimes merely accused, of crimes over the past decade. The result: a dramatic increase in debt among people with conviction records. Such indebtedness exacerbates the challenges facing them by reducing family income, limiting access to housing, credit, transportation, and employment, exposing them to reincarceration for parole violations (not paying debt owed the court, etc.), and even increasing the likelihood of re-offending. For many of these individuals it is not a willful decision not to pay, but rather a lack of income, assets, and resources to pay that keeps them in debt. As a result, an individual can become trapped in the complex web of the criminal justice system, debt, and poverty.
On September 12, 2013, the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, the ACLU, Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, and the Illinois Asset Building Group cosponsored a webinar exploring criminal defendant/prisoner debt in the U.S. and its effects on reentry and asset building opportunities. American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) attorneys Carl Takei and Eric Balaban discussed recent data on the level criminal debt and its impacts on individuals and society at large. Rebecca Vallas, an attorney with the National Organization of Social Security Claimants' Representatives, and Sharon Dietrich, Managing Attorney with Community Legal Services, examined effective programs and policies for mitigating such impacts.
Brief of Amicus Curiae the American Civil Liberties Union Fund of Michigan, the Michigan State Planning Body, and the Brennan Center for Justice in Support of Joseph Bailey, Michigan v. Bailey, No. 311682 (Mich. Ct. App. filed Aug. 23, 2013)
Philadelphia CityPaper, Courts' Campaign to Squeeze Poor Debtors Goes Awry (May 1, 2013)
ABA Journal, Get Out of Jail--But Not for Free: Courts Scramble to Fill Their Coffers by Billing Ex-Cons (July 2012)
Brennan Center for Justice, Criminal Justice Debt: A Toolkit for Action (July 2012)
Rebecca D. Vallas and Roopal Patel, Sentenced to a Life of Criminal Debt: A Barrier to Reentry and Climbing Out of Poverty, 46 Clearinghouse Review 131 (July-August 2012)
ACLU Wins Federal Court Challenge to Hidalgo County's Debtors Prison (February 2012) (press release)
Ann Cammett, Shadow Citizens: Felony Disenfranchisement and the Criminalization of Debt, 117 Penn St. Law Rev. 349 (2012)
Brennan Center for Justice, Criminal Justice Debt: A Barrier to Reentry (October 2010)
Marie Claire Tran-Leung, Assessing the Ad Hoc Nature of Financial Obligations Arising in the Illinois Criminal Justice System, 43 Clearinghouse Review 440 (January-February 2010)
Alexis Harris, Heather Evans, and Katherine Beckett, Drawing Blood from Stones: Legal Debt and Social Inequality in the Contemporary United States, 115 American Journal of Sociology 1753 (May 2010)
Marie Claire Tran-Leung, Debt Arising from Illinois' Criminal Justice System: Making Sense of the Ad Hoc Accumulation of Financial Obligations (November 2010)
Kristen D. Levingston and Vicki Turetsky, Debtors' Prison: Prisoners Accumulation of Debt as a Barrier to Reentry, 41 Clearinghouse Review 187 (July-August 2007)
BBC, The Cost of Doing Crime (radio documentary)
Penn Law School, Pay Up! Criminal Justice Debt in Philadelphia (video)