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Deep Dive with Laura Arnold

Podcast: The High Price of Using Fines and Fees in the Criminal Justice System

Fines and fees are used by the justice system to collect revenue and punish people convicted of crimes. But a growing body of evidence shows that fines and fees disproportionately punish the poor and are inefficient sources of profit. Most disturbingly, experts say debt from fines and fees can tether individuals to the criminal justice system for the rest of their lives. In this episode, we explore the economic and racial bias inherent in fines and fees, examine their use as a source of funding for cities and counties, and discuss alternative approaches to the imposition of these “financial sentences.”

Image: A message is seen on the sidewalk along West Florrisant Avenue one year after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown's 2014 death led to a Department of Justice investigation that found a pattern of racial bias in Ferguson around the imposition of fines and fees. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

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In the latest episode of “Deep Dive with Laura Arnold,” Laura sits down with two leading thinkers on issues of criminal justice and poverty: Alexes Harris, Professor of Sociology at the University of Washington, and Jeffrey Selbin, Clinical Professor of Law and Founder and Faculty Director of the Advocacy Policy Clinic at Berkeley. Listen to their discussion about the problems inherent in charging fines and fees, which perpetuate a two-tiered system of (in)justice in America. 

Also, explore a timely new report from Berkeley on the impact of Senate Bill 190, California’s history-making bill that abolished fees in the juvenile legal system and provided hundreds of millions of dollars in relief to California families. Despite the progress, Berkeley researchers found that some counties are still trying to collect on old debt, leaving more work to be done to ensure debt-free justice across the state.

How to listen

Listen to the podcast in the player above or on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, or your favorite podcast app.

About the host

Laura Arnold is the Co-Founder and Co-Chair of Arnold Ventures, founded in 2010, and an attorney and former oil company executive. Read more about her here.