New National Report on Fines, Costs, Restitution Proposes Solutions to "Debt Penalty"

Written by Melanie G. Snyder on Monday - August 10, 2015.

Researchers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice Research & Evaluation Center have just published an in-depth report titled "The Debt Penalty: Exposing the Financial Barriers to Offender Reintegration." The report explores the various types of fines, fees, restitution and other financial obligations placed on offenders, the purposes of these obligations, the various approaches employed to collect on these debts, reasons offenders don't pay, the penalties associated with non-payment, the hidden costs to both the legal system and offenders of common debt collection practices, and the effects of criminal debt, including a variety of consequences related to employment, education, housing and other aspects of life for offenders upon release from incarceration.  

The report also explores connections between criminal debt and recidivism.

The report provides statistics and information from various states around the US (including some from Pennsylvania)

The report then proposes a variety of solutions that criminal justice entities can employ to "increase the likelihood of payment whil lessening the financial burden on offenders." These solutions include improved practices for setting fee amounts, prioritization of fees, tracking debt, improving restitution collection, improving child suppport collection, processes for offenders to "earn back" their eligibility for certain types of public assistance, and alternatives to incarceration for non-payment.

An executive summary is available at: 

http://www.justicefellowship.org/sites/default/files/The%20Debt%20Penalty_Executive%20Summary_Justice%20Fellowship.pdf

The full, 20-page report is available here:

http://justicefellowship.org/sites/default/files/The%20Debt%20Penalty_John%20Jay_August%202014.pdf 

About the Author

Melanie G. Snyder

Melanie G. Snyder

Melanie G. Snyder serves as the Executive Director of the Lancaster County Reentry Management Organization (RMO). She was a featured TEDx speaker at the first-ever TEDx event in Lancaster.  http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/Breaking-out-of-prison-thinking 

She is an NIC-certified Offender Workforce Development Specialist, a certified Global Career Development Facilitator, and a certified instructor for the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Healing Communities model. She is also a trained restorative justice mediator.

Prior to Melanie's involvement with the RMO, she spent several years researching and writing the book Grace Goes to Prison: An Inspiring Story of Hope and Humanity (Brethren Press, 2009), which tells the true story of a woman who volunteered in Pennsylvania's state prisons for over 30 years, creating inmate education and reentry programs based on principles of restorative justice. After Grace Goes to Prison was published, Melanie traveled throughout the United States, doing speaking engagements and meeting with other reentry and restorative justice professionals to discuss criminal justice issues and exchange information and ideas.