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.

CJPP Publishes Guide for Policy Reform of Fees and Fines in the Criminal Justice System

Excessive financial obligations, as well as improper practices for imposing and enforcing court debt, can have extremely harmful consequences for individuals, families, and communities. As part of its efforts to bring about significant reform in this area, the Criminal Justice Policy Program published Confronting Criminal Justice Debt: A Guide to Policy Reform.

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CJPP Launches Criminal Justice Debt Reform Builder, a 50-State Web Resource
April 14, 2017Announcement

CJPP Launches Criminal Justice Debt Reform Builder, a 50-State Web Resource

Criminal justice debt – the result of fees and fines in the criminal justice system – has serious consequences. The Criminal Justice Debt Reform Builder brings transparency to this area of significant legal complexity: it gives easier access to state laws that govern criminal justice debt and suggests policy solutions through the Criminal Justice Policy Program’s Confronting Criminal Justice Debt: A Guide for Policy Reform.

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CJPP Publishes Primer on Bail Reform
October 7, 2016Announcement, News

CJPP Publishes Primer on Bail Reform

Moving Beyond Money: A Primer on Bail Reform provides guidance on devising a system of pretrial decision-making that preserves judicial integrity and protects public safety while also ensuring fairness, transparency, and efficiency.

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CJPP Directors Urge Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to Consider Constitutional Issues Surrounding Bail
August 15, 2016News

CJPP Directors Urge Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to Consider Constitutional Issues Surrounding Bail

CJPP leadership submitted a letter to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court urging it to consider the petition filed in Commonwealth v. Wagle that raises important constitutional issues relating to the use of cash bail in cases involving indigent defendants.

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Criminal Justice Policy Program Announces National Criminal Justice Debt Initiative
June 1, 2016News

Criminal Justice Policy Program Announces National Criminal Justice Debt Initiative

The Criminal Justice Policy Program is excited to announce a generous grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation to support CJPP’s work reforming the operation of fees and fines in the criminal justice system.

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