Mercenary Criminal Justice
52 Pages Posted: 20 Aug 2013 Last revised: 10 Oct 2014
Date Written: September 5, 2014
Today, a growing number of bill collectors are standing in line to collect on the debt that criminals owe to society. Courts order payment of costs; legislatures levy conviction surcharges; even private, for-profit entities get a piece of the action, collecting fees for probation supervision services and the like. While legal financial obligations (LFOs) have long been a part of the criminal justice system, recent budget cutbacks have prompted an unprecedented surge in their use. The resulting funds are dedicated to sustaining and even expanding system operations. With this shift, criminal justice actors have become mercenaries, in effect working on commission. While a significant literature now exists on the adverse personal consequences of LFOs for offenders, this article is the first to examine their legal and institutional ramifications. Although any single LFO might be justifiable, the cumulative effects of assessed LFOs might overwhelm offenders. Further, when criminal justice actors find themselves collecting payments that benefit their own institutions or entities, there comes systemic risk of self-dealing. To mediate these threats, the article proposes use of LFO commissions, which could inventory and assess the propriety of current and proposed LFOs, and monitor their use going forward.
Keywords: fees, costs, revenue generation
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