“Parallel Welfare State”–How Court Fines, Fees Hurt Defendants’ Families


A new report on the growth of court fines and fees charged to often-impoverished offenders is focusing on another group that pays: their families, NPR reports. Titled “When All Else Fails, Fining the Family,” the study finds that most impoverished people who go through the criminal justice system get cash from family and friends to help pay their court-ordered fines, even though those family and friends are often poor, too. The report was published by the Center for Community Alternatives, a New York-based advocacy group that promotes alternatives to incarceration.

The study says “the incarcerated individual’s friends and family … become, in effect, a parallel welfare state.” The report was based on interviews with 39 ex-prisoners. Last year, NPR reported on how cash-strapped courts, states and municipalities help fund themselves by charging a growing number of user fees to defendants and inmates, even for services like a public defender. For an individual, those costs typically add up to hundreds or thousands of dollars.

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