Low-income families are overly burdened by financial penalties imposed for violations of the law, including parking and speeding tickets, court-imposed fees used to cover administrative costs of courts and prisons, and other criminal legal charges and penalties. Lacking financial resources, these families often turn to high-cost and predatory services and forgo basic necessities to avoid further legal consequences. When the federal Child Tax Credit (CTC) was temporarily expanded in 2021 to provide benefits to children in households with low or no incomes, it provided parents with new resources to invest in their children. Monthly deposits of CTC benefits also helped families better navigate their debt, including debt from fines and fees. Though, in some cases, CTC deposits were taken through garnishments by non-federal creditors reducing debt with involuntary payments. While the expanded CTC provided these families with some relief from onerous fines and fees, a temporary tax policy should not be used to solve the inequitable system of fines and fees in criminal law.
This article was originally published by the American Bar Association here in the Human Rights Magazine’s volume 48, number 3: Economic Issues in Criminal Justice.