*This piece is part of the ACSblog Symposium: 2017 ACS National Convention. The symposium will consider topics featured at the three day convention, scheduled for June 8-10, 2017. Learn more about the Convention here.
**This post is based on written testimony for a 5/15/17 California State Senate hearing on SB 185.
by Karin D. Martin, PhD, Assistant Professor of Public Management, John Jay College of Criminal Justice & The Graduate Center, City University of New York
Monetary penalties—fines, fees, surcharges, restitution and any other financial liability from contact with the criminal justice system—are a ubiquitous and growing feature of punishment in the U.S. On the one hand, these sanctions have the potential to achieve the aims of punishment with far fewer economic and social costs than incarceration. On the other hand, monetary sanctions produce disproportionate harm—particularly among those least able to pay—at the same time that they create a perverse incentive for courts, municipalities and other entities that can both create and collect monetary sanctions.
How these sanctions are enforced can be quite particularly problematic. Jurisdictions do everything from entering civil judgments to revoking or extending probation/parole or incarcerating people for non-payment. Unpaid debt also subjects people to regular court summons, the issuance of warrants and pursuit by private collection agencies. Many jurisdictions also do something that too often directly undermines people’s ability to pay their court-ordered debt: suspend driver’s licenses.