In June 2019, the PFM Center for Justice & Safety Finance, with support from The Laura and John Arnold Foundation, partnered with NACo to provide counties with technical assistance to reduce and gradually eliminate reliance on criminal fines and fees as a revenue source. In the U.S., cities and counties have become more reliant on fines and fees to generate revenue. Total financial obligations for an individual convicted of a crime can amount to thousands of dollars which place a major—sometimes insurmountable—burden on those assessed. While fees may be substantial, the average county only collects enough revenue from fines and fees to cover 7 percent of its police and judicial expenditures.
Three counties — Ramsey County, Minnesota, Nashville-Davidson County, Tennessee, and Dallas County, Texas — were selected as project sites for the PFM Center for Justice & Safety Finance project to receive technical assistance from the Center based on their size, executive-level support, commitment to reform, feasibility of affecting change and data availability. Within each county, PFM worked with county officials to:
- Outline the current system of fines and fees, including the number of cases where fees were imposed, arrests for non-payment of fees and instances of incarceration because of non-payment;
- Assess the revenue and cost impact of the current system of fines and fees; and
- Develop a plan to phase out select fines and fees, including alternative revenue sources, potential cost savings and a detailed implementation framework.
As a result of the initiative, NACo and PFM have generated lessons learned about county efforts to reduce and eliminate criminal fines and fees. On NACo’s Reducing Fines and Fees in County Justice Systems web page, you can find our Reducing Fines and Fees in County Justice Systems brief, which explains how fines and fees are administered at the county level and provides solutions on what counties can do to effectively address fines and fees; a recording of a webinar and workshop with national experts and county officials discussing their experiences reducing and eliminating justice related fines and fees; a video explaining the impact of fines and fees on county residents and an upcoming brief highlighting Dallas County, Texas’ efforts to address criminal fines and fees in its local system.
Additional resources, including reports highlighting PFM’s fines and fees work in Ramsey County, Dallas County and Nashville-Davidson County; case studies from Ramsey County (Minnesota) and Nashville-Davidson County (Tennessee) and a best practices report titled “Reforming Fine & Fee Policies in the Criminal Justice System” can be found on the PFM Center for Justice and Safety Finance web page under the resources tab.