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Court fees criminalize low-income defendants

Rebecca Goldstein, Helen Ho, and Bruce Western continue the collaborative work started with their late colleague Devah Pager by looking at how court fees criminalize low-income defendants when they are unable to pay. The study profiled here is particularly strong in its assertions about causal relationships due to the nature of its experimental design, a randomized controlled trial.


  • Fines and fees associated with legal-system involvement are common and often applied to defendants who have no reasonable ability to pay, extending legal-system involvement by criminalizing poverty.
  • In a randomized controlled trial of court-related fee relief for misdemeanor charges in Oklahoma County, Oklahoma, fee relief is not associated with new criminal charges, convictions, or jail bookings within 12 months.
  • Levying court-related debts on low-income defendants appeared to neither cause nor reduce new crime, with little financial benefit obtained by local government seeking collections.


Court System, Fines & Fees, Justice System, Place, Place General