In a recession economy, all of us – including government agencies – are doing what we can to make ends meet, and that includes states' legal systems. A new report released by NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice reveals that states are imposing new court fees for individuals with criminal convictions. The fees are described as “user fees,” as they are not the traditional obligations levied for punishment, deterrence, or rehabilitation. Instead, these fees serve only to pay back the court system as it attempts to recoup operational costs.
If this study is correct, there are few winners in this scenario. These fees disproportionally affect the poor and indigent who, unable to pay, can wind up with additional financial penalties or, in some cases, even sent back to prison. Furthermore, states' commitments to getting these fees paid may be costing taxpayers far more than the original fees themselves.
We speak with Rebekah Diller, Deputy Director of the Justice Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, who is one of the principal researchers in the Center’s report. We also speak to Scott Burns, executive director of the National District Attorneys Association. Burns argues that this study misses the fact that justice is not dealt with with a cookie cutter model. As such, even if the study's findings are proven correct, they may not indicate a systemic failure.