In Most States, Defendants Must Pay for Public Defenders, Inmates for Room and Board and Offenders for Probation Expenses

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The American criminal justice system has become a pay-to-be-punished system in which those accused of breaking the law—most often poor people and minorities—are forced to finance their own incarceration, among other things.


It has already been widely reported that poor Americans are increasingly being sentenced to prison because they can’t pay court-ordered fines and fees. But a National Public Radio investigation discovered that defendants in most states are charged for government services that used to be free, including those required under the Constitution, like the right to have an attorney.


Those most impacted by the development of these costs are usually low-income and/or minorities, according to sociologist Alexes Harris at the University of Washington.


“They tend to be people of color, African-Americans and Latinos,” Harris told NPR. “They tend to be high school dropouts, they tend to be people with mental illness, with substance abuse. So these are already very poor and marginalized people in our society, and then we impose these fiscal penalties to them and expect that they make regular payments, when in fact the vast majority are unable to do so.”


The NRP investigation uncovered these facts about fees levied on defendants and offenders:


·         Defendants can be billed for a public defender in 43 states and the District of Columbia.


·         Prisoners can be charged room and board for their incarceration in 41 states.


·         Those on probation or parole in 44 states can get billed for these services.


·         Anyone ordered to wear an electronic monitoring device in 49 states (except Hawaii and the District of Columbia) must pay for it.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

As Court Fees Rise, the Poor Are Paying the Price (by Joseph Shapiro, National Public Radio)

Despite 50-Year-Old Supreme Court Ruling, Poor Defendants Still have Trouble Finding Lawyers (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)


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