Justice Grants Awarded to Address Court Fines

September 21, 2016 | By Jerry Ashworth | Post a Comment

prison-1201269Earlier this year, we released a post about a federal grant program to assist and rehabilitate those who have been released from our nation’s prisons. Now, the federal government is providing award funds for programs aimed at eliminating unnecessary confinement in the first place.

The Office of Justice Programs (OJP) within the U.S. Department of Justice recently announced that it was awarding about $3 million in grants to support reforms of justice system responses to individuals’ inability to pay fines, fees and related charges. Awarded under a new grant program called “The Price of Justice: Rethinking the Consequences of Justice Fines and Fees,” five states will receive funds targeted to implement fair and effective policies and practices related to criminal justice financial obligations, increase data-sharing and collaboration among agencies regarding assessment and enforcement of justice debt, support alternatives that promote rehabilitation and reduce unnecessary confinement due to justice-involved individuals’ inability to pay fines, fees and related charges.

Award recipients are the Judicial Council of California, the Judiciary Courts of the State of Louisiana, the Texas Office of Court Administration, the Missouri Office of State Courts Administration, and the Washington Minority and Justice Commission of the Washington State Courts. In addition, the Fund for the City of New York, Center for Court Innovation, will provide training and technical assistance to the site-based grantees.

According to Assistant Attorney General Karol Mason, “Overreliance on criminal fines and court-related fees harms the poorest members of the community and erodes faith in the justice system. Today we are taking another step toward ending unfair and often unconstitutional practices that perpetuate a cycle of poverty and incarceration.”

OJP explained that the grant program was developed from a growing body of research that found people are being incarcerated for failing to pay fines and fees, despite their inability to do so; justice agencies focused less on public safety and rehabilitation than on maximizing revenue; and racial and ethnic disparity in the impacts of criminal justice debt.

We find this program interesting and sensible. We’ll be interested to see how these states ultimately use the funds, and if the program expands in the future.

Let us know how you feel about this program. We’d love to hear from you.


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