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Even After Gaining Their Freedom, People With Criminal Convictions Bear a Crushing Financial Burden

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, more and more prisoners reentering society after incarceration are struggling with criminal justice debt as states continue to increase rates of excessive fees, collection fines, and restitution.

These charges are justified as “user fees” to fund the criminal justice system. However, due to increasing demand, low-income Americans are being struck with debt that could immediately send released prisoners back to confinement. With increased debts, citizens are unable to support themselves economically, causing the reincarceration of many.

For those imprisoned, time within a penitentiary can already prove to be expensive, as simply living within a jail cell carries a price. Freedom is limited for many prisoners, as additional fees eliminate future independence for those who have served their time.

In the state of Florida, unpaid fees and court costs are being used against individuals to deprive them of their right to vote. Many believe this to be dehumanizing, as prior criminal convictions should not mean a citizen must be stripped of their right to vote. Data show that systemic racism and racial bias plays a large part in who is targeted for court warrants, expanded uses of fines, and municipal fees. This discrimination causes Black residents to have higher chances of being reincarcerated for unpaid debts.

The key to putting a stop to harmful criminal justice fines is to prevent states from having the authority of arresting freshly released convicts upon failure to pay their debt, and to also eliminate public defender fees. If legislatures proceed to put an end to these charges, freed individuals will regain their right to vote despite prior convictions or unpaid criminal justice fees. More leniency, as well as economic strength, and elimination of racial bias, can provide Americans the ability to eliminate debt prisons, and to allow freedom and opportunity for all released prisoners.

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