U.S. criminal justice costs, mostly policing, jails, prisons, and courts, jumped from $35 billion in 1982 to more than $265 billion in 2012, a growth of over 650 percent, says a new report from the Brennan Center for Justice. Those caught in the system are being hit with additional fees, many of which are charged simply for being in the criminal justice system, the center says. Forty-three states and the District of Columbia allow fees to be charged for using a public defender, and 44 states charge individuals for using probation services.
As more jurisdictions face strapped budgets, private probation companies have profited from requiring probationers to pay out of their own pockets for drug treatment, electronic monitoring, and myriad other services they are required to participate in as a condition of their supervision. Probation fees typically run about $80 to $100 a month. More costly fees compound the problem. For example, a monthly electronic monitoring system can cost as much as $300 a month. A defendant can emerge from the system owing thousands of dollars in fees. The center says that some people leave jails and prisons “with a mountain of debt, much of it stemming from the fees they incurred behind bars, where a short telephone call home can cost as much as $20. This debt can create a barrier to successful reentry, the report says.