Court-Imposed Debts and the Poor: Reforming Policies for Legal Financial Obligations

The ACLU-WA is working to end unfair policies and practices for court-imposed debts.  Known as Legal Financial Obligations (LFOs), these are fines, fees, and restitution imposed on top of a criminal conviction. Often imposed without taking into account an individual’s ability to pay, they can grow quickly due to 12% annual interest and collections fees.
LFOs keep the poor tied to the criminal justice system and present a formidable barrier for people seeking to re-enter society. In some instances, a person’s inability to pay off LFOs result in their being locked up – a modern-day form of the debtors’ prison.

What is the Problem

cover of modern day debtors' prisons report

Modern-Day Debtors’ Prisons

The ACLU of Washington and Columbia Legal Services issued a report examining the unfair burdens court-ordered debts impose on poor people in Washington. “Modern-Day Debtors’ Prisons: The Ways Court-Imposed Debts Punish People for Being Poor” exposes a counterproductive system and calls for reform.

In For A Penny Report Cover

“In for a Penny” – read the ACLU report

This ACLU report presents the results of a yearlong investigation into modern-day "debtors' prisons," and shows that poor defendants are being jailed at increasingly alarming rates for failing to pay legal debts they can never hope to afford.