An NPR investigation finds that the costs of the criminal justice system in the United States are paid increasingly by the defendants and offenders. It’s a practice that causes the poor to face harsher treatment than others who commit identical crimes and can afford to pay. These fees — which can add up to hundreds or even thousands of dollars — get charged at every step of the system, from the courtroom, to jail, to probation. Some judges and politicians fear the trend has gone too far.
In many places, defendants are charged for government services that once were free, including those that are constitutionally required. For example: In at least 43 states and the District of Columbia, defendants can be billed for a public defender; in at least 41 states, inmates can be charged room and board for jail and prison stays; in at least 44 states, offenders can get billed for their own probation and parole supervision, and in all states except Hawaii there’s a fee for the electronic monitoring devices defendants and offenders are ordered to wear.