Shackled to Debt: Criminal Justice Financial Obligations and the Barriers to Re-Entry They Create

By: Karin D. Martin, Sandra Susan Smith, and Wendy Still. Published by: Harvard Kennedy School. Published on: January 13, 2017

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Formerly incarcerated people face a considerable number of obstacles to successful re-entry. These obstacles include state-sanctioned barriers like government restrictions on access to public-sector employment and government-related private occupations, restrictions on voting rights, and limited access to public housing and social welfare programs. The social stigma that justice-involved people face further compounds problems with re-entry, including their attempts to find work. The major impediment that this report focuses on is Criminal Justice Financial Obligations (CJFOs). There are at least five types for CJFOs including: fines and forfeiture of property, court costs and fees, and restitution payable to the victim. This article explains that CJFOs can have long-term effects that significantly harm the efforts of formerly incarcerated people to rehabilitate and reintegrate into society.

This article serves to describe trends in the assessment of CJFOS, discuss their historical context, and reflect on their unintended consequences. It also discusses restitution, and raises serious concerns about how it is implemented. Finally, it considers alternative models for the effective and fair deployment of fines, fees, and restitution in the criminal justice context.

Categories: Individual Rights, National, Policymakers and Funders, Reentry, Reentry

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