National Center for Access To Justice Releases New Fines And Fees Justice Reports on Decriminalizing Poverty in the Judicial System


New Index Uncovers “Dismal” Fines and Fees Policies; Reveals Reform Agenda for All States

The National Center for Access to Justice (NCAJ) at Fordham Law School today released a new Fines and Fees Justice Index, an update to NCAJ’s May 2021 rankings of the states’ best policies to curb the unjust use of fines and fees. Included with the new findings are 51 new State Policy Reports which examine current laws on fines and fees in each state (and the District of Columbia) and provide a roadmap for change.

“Thanks to the tireless work of advocates, we have seen substantial progress on fines and fees policies in a short time,” said Lauren Jones, legal and policy director at the National Center for Access to Justice and author of the reports. “Since the release of the original Fines and Fees Justice Index, a dozen states have passed new laws that eliminate unjust fines or fees, stopped the ill-advised practice of suspending driver’s licenses for failure to pay fines and fees, or reduced the practice of extracting money from people simply unable to pay.”

In the last year, Delaware made the greatest strides on fines and fees policy. The governor signed HB 244 on October 3rd, an omnibus bill that, among other things, ended the practice of charging children fines and fees and halted suspensions of driver’s licenses for unpaid fines and fees. The new law moves Delaware from 47th in the nation to 23rd on the Fines and Fees Justice Index. Alabama ranked last in the nation, with only 7 points total. Washington state once again ranked first, but still received a failing score: 59 out of a possible 100 points.

“While the progress we’re seeing in some states is heartening, the overall state of play on fines and fees remains dismal,” said Jones “Across the country, fines and fees continue to trap people in cycles of poverty and incarceration simply because they cannot afford to pay. For example, 47 states still charge people hundreds or even thousands of dollars in fees for a ‘free’ public defender, and the debt can follow people for years. Twenty-one states still block people from voting when they have outstanding fines and fees. Even with the progress we’ve seen, no state received a passing score on the Fines and Fees Justice Index this year.”

To see how all states scored on the Fines and Fees Justice Index, read about their policies, and see the methodology for how NCAJ arrived at the scores, visit the Fines and Fees Justice Index.


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