The Project:
CJPP and the University of Cologne will interview judges and prosecutors in four states in Germany: Bavaria, Sachsen-Anhalt, North Rhine-Westphalia, and Rhineland-Palatinate. These states were selected based on data showing the percentage of people in the states who are in prison for fine default and the severity of punishment relative to other states.

Researchers are interested in how fines are set in practice. According to German law, Courts first set the daily units according to the severity of the crime and then the daily rate based on the individual’s ability to pay. We are interested in what information is used to set the daily rate, what inquiry is conducted in court,  and how police, prosecutors, and judges coordinate collection of ability-to-pay information.

  • Ability-to-Pay: We are generally interested in how judges and prosecutors assess a defendant’s ability to pay.
  • Charging Decisions: Researchers are interested in what role, if any, financial circumstances play in whether an individual is sentenced to incarceration, which charges an individual receives, and how many day units a person is assigned.
  • Perceptions of system: Researchers are interested in judges’ assessment of the fairness and functioning of the system and possible reforms to the system.
  • Communications with defendants: Researchers are interested in any communications with defendants about day fines and ability to pay.
  • Enforcement and Post-Sentencing: Researchers are interested in what role judges and prosecutors play in collection post-sentencing.

The Criminal Justice Policy Program:
The Criminal Justice Policy Program at Harvard Law School works to reform the use of financial penalties in the United States criminal justice system. In the U.S., the use of financial penalties has attracted public attention in recent years as local governments have increased the amount of fines and the harshness of collection measures (including incarceration, warrants, revocation of driver’s licenses, and more). People often end up stuck in the system because of their inability to pay their criminal justice debt.

Many in the U.S. are considering day fines as a model of reform.  In countries like Germany with day fines systems, financial penalties are imposed with consideration of ability to pay, which is not the case in the U.S. Unfortunately, there is very little English language literature on day fines. Over the course of the next year, CJPP, in partnership with the University of Cologne will study how day fines are implemented in Germany, learn what is working and what is not, and bring back policy lessons to the U.S.

Researchers:

Mitali Nagrecha for CJPP and Frank Neubacher and Nicole Bögelein for the University of Cologne

University of Cologne:

The University of Cologne has engaged in research and analysis about financial penalties in the criminal justice system. Nicole Bögelein has explored how offenders use shared ‘patterns of interpretation’ to understand a sentencing decision that can, in the case of fine default, lead to imprisonment. Frank Neubacher and Nicole Bögelein have investigated the process of avoiding imprisonment for fine-default and Nicole has looked into how imprisoned fine-defaulters experience their imprisonment.