Fees and fines, cash bail, private probation – all of these phenomena link criminal justice outcomes to a person’s economic status. As U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch recently noted, “[W]hat we are seeing in this country amounts to nothing less than the criminalization of poverty.” Criminalizing poverty violates basic notions of fairness. It also leads to stark racial disparities and can distort the operation of the criminal justice system by making courts and other actors inappropriately reliant on revenue extracted from defendants.
The Criminal Justice Policy Program has taken on several initiatives designed to counteract the criminalization of poverty.
- Criminal Justice Debt: Excessive imposition of fees and fines, and harsh practices to enforce those debts, can lead to widespread abuse. The Criminal Justice Policy Program is engaging in a broad, nationwide effort to reform those practices through its National Criminal Justice Debt Initiative.
- Cash Bail: Cash bail does not serve the purposes of pretrial justice: it is a poor tool for protecting the integrity of criminal proceedings or ensuring public safety. Yet it can have devastating consequences for individuals detained before trial simply because they cannot afford a cash bond. The Criminal Justice Policy Program works to support policy reform built around sound alternatives to cash bail. As part of that effort, it has published a Primer on Bail Reform. The primer provides guidance on navigating the legal and policy terrain of pretrial justice in a system that moves beyond cash bail.
- Private Probation: In many jurisdictions around the country, probation supervision is outsourced to private companies. Advocates and researchers have uncovered widespread abuse by private probation companies, often growing out of misaligned incentives that link a companies revenue to fees imposed on probationers. Along with partners in Georgia, the Criminal Justice Policy Program has launched several projects to reform unfair practices connected to private probation. An example of the program’s work on private probation can be found here.