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Court-ordered fines and fees undercut integrity and fiscal prudence of criminal justice in Idaho

| July 29, 2021 1:00 AM

According to a new report released by the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy, the choice made by Idaho’s lawmakers to use court-ordered fines and fees as a revenue source for state and local criminal justice services results in harmful consequences for Idahoans impacted by the criminal justice system, Idaho’s state and local budgets, and the overall safety of our communities.

Fines and fees function like a regressive tax that inflicts undue burden on Idahoans with low incomes and Idahoans of color, trap Idahoans in the legal system, contribute to increased public spending and fail to boost revenue.

The penalties for failing to meet these court-ordered financial obligations are disproportionately more punitive for Idahoans with low incomes and Idahoans of color and can significantly impact the trajectory of a person’s life. Idahoans unable to pay are at risk of facing additional monetary penalties, accruing additional fees and credit score hits when unpaid court debts are sent to third-party collection agencies, having the unpaid amount withheld from their state tax returns or having a warrant issued for their arrest.

“In communities across the state, Idahoans can be put in jail for inability to pay fines or fees set by courts. These may be fines for low-level offenses, like traffic tickets, or tied to criminal convictions like court costs and probation or lab fees. These fees and fines create an endless maze for Idahoans who can’t pay their way out of a problem,” said Alejandra Cerna Rios, director of the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy.

“Though it should not happen, Idahoans of color are more likely to get caught up in this maze. It doesn’t make sense to continue these practices given their social costs and the heavy budgetary impact of keeping people in the system," Rios added. "There are practical steps we can take to restore the integrity of our justice system, such as taking into account ability to pay when assigning fees.”

The full report can be found at the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy’s website: https://idahocfp.org/new/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Fees-and-Fines-Policy-Review-7-15.pdf