Why do fees exist in the justice system?

In recent decades, state and local governments have increasingly turned to police, prosecutors and judges to generate revenue. They have increased the number and amount of fees (costs or surcharges) imposed on people in the justice system for everything from prosecution fees, to supervision fees, to fees added onto traffic tickets.

Fees are used to fund everything from the justice system itself to state and local general funds. This regressive system of taxation is now entrenched in jurisdictions across the United States and can be especially tempting to governments facing the threat of recession.

Fees are charged at nearly every point of interaction with the justice system. People who can’t afford these fees — which often total thousands of dollars — are subjected to punishments that trap them in a cycle of poverty: incarceration, driver’s license suspension, and additional fees.

Fees are counterproductive

We’re wasting taxpayer dollars and law enforcement resources to chase fees from people who can’t afford to pay. On average counties spend 121 times more to collect a dollar of fees than the IRS spends to collect a dollar of income tax. In some places, cities are spending more money collecting fees than the fees actually generate.

Revenue-based justice breeds perverse incentives. Relying on fees to balance budgets sets up bad incentives: rather than preventing crime and keeping our communities safe, police spend their time stopping more people and writing more tickets to meet their quotas.

The justice system is supposed to serve everyone. Yet, low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately cited, arrested, jailed and burdened by fee debt. Rather than extracting billions of dollars from vulnerable communities for whatever they like, governments should have to ask and account for the money they collect and spend.

It’s time to end fees and let families thrive

Eliminating these hidden taxes will put money back in the pockets of working families. For a wealthy person, paying those hundreds of dollars of added fees  is a mere inconvenience — but for the 64% of families living paycheck-to-paycheck, paying those fees means they can’t afford to pay rent or feed their families.

End Justice Fees is the first national campaign dedicated to eliminating all fees in the justice system and discharging fee debt. Our coalition is made up of organizations from across the political spectrum united in the belief that no one should be punished, criminalized, or saddled with lifelong debt because they cannot afford to pay a fee. We provide advocates and lawmakers with the tools and resources they need to end these fees and help their communities flourish.

Momentum to end fees is growing
Momentum to eliminate fees and discharge debt is rapidly growing among state and local policymakers. In the past seven years, dozens of states and localities in states both red and blue have enacted reforms to eliminate one or more fees.
Steering Committee

Coalition Members

ACLU of Kentucky

ACLU New Mexico

Alabama Appleseed Center for Law & Justice

American Legislative Exchange Council

Arnold Ventures

Beyond the Bars

Center for Policing Equity

CEO Action for Racial Equity

Chainless Change, Inc.

Civil Rights Corps

Civil Survival Project

Clark County Black Caucus

Community Justice Exchange

Community Legal Services

Dream.org

Due Process Institute

Equal Justice Under Law

Fines and Fees Freedom Fund

Florida Policy Institute

Forward Justice

Georgia Justice Project

Institute for Justice

Just City – Memphis

Justice Action Network

Juvenile Law Center

Law Enforcement Action Partnership

Legal Aid Justice Center

Louisiana Appleseed

Make It Work Nevada

NAACP

National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers

National Consumer Law Center

NC Justice Center

Nevada Policy

New Hour for Women & Children Long Island

New Mexico Voices for Children

NM Center on Law and Poverty

Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs

Policy Advocacy Clinic

Public Justice

Responsible Business Initiative for Justice

Return Strong

Texas Fair Defense Project

The Collaboration for Justice (Chicago Appleseed & Chicago Council of Lawyers)

The Evans Law Firm

WA Drivers Relicensing Taskforce