Criminal justice debt – the system of fees and fines in the criminal justice system – has serious consequences. The Criminal Justice Debt Reform Builder brings transparency to this area of significant legal complexity: it gives easier access to state laws that govern criminal justice debt and suggests policy solutions through the Criminal Justice Policy Program’s Confronting Criminal Justice Debt: A Guide for Policy Reform.

The Reform Builder and Policy Guide are organized into the following reform areas:

Ability to Pay

Individuals face dozens of fees and surcharges on top of high fine amounts, much of which is often imposed without regard for an individual’s ability to pay.

Conflicts of Interest

The negative impact of criminal justice debt is community wide: jurisdictions rely on fees and fines to fund basic operations, distorting the administration of justice and eroding trust. Racial disparities permeate the system.

Poverty Penalties and Poverty Traps

Financial obligations are structured in a way that impose the harshest effects on the poorest defendants, leading to vicious cycles of ballooning debt, loss of driver’s licenses, jail time, and other harms for non-payment of that debt.


Additional data collection, analysis, and reporting of system-wide practices will shine light on these practices.


Key features of the Reform Builder