The criminal justice system is essential to preserving social stability. However, the cost of a criminal sentence can have devastating effects on an individual’s and family’s financial stability. This article examines the various costs that come with a criminal conviction, including legal fees, fines, and the impact on future earnings.
A person’s bank account will start taking a hit as soon as they are charged with an offense. Bail is typically required to secure a defendant’s release awaiting trial. Depending on the gravity of the offense and the defendant’s flight risk, bail can be set anywhere from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars. Those who can’t afford bail may be forced to spend more time in prison, which can have a negative impact on their finances.
Once the trial starts, the defendant’s legal fees will continue to rise. It can cost thousands to hire a private attorney, and even those who are eligible for a public defender may have to pay a fee depending on their financial situation. In the event of a conviction, individuals often appeal a conviction, incurring additional legal expenses.
A criminal conviction may result in additional costs, such as fines, restitution, and judicial costs. Restitution is meant to make up for the harm done, while fines are more of a punishing measure. Some violations carry fines in the tens of thousands of dollars, while others carry sanctions in the hundreds of thousands.
Fees for services such as electronic surveillance, drug testing, and supervision during probation or parole may also be imposed by the court. If you don’t pay your fines, you could face further court action, which would only add to your mounting debt and time spent behind bars.
A criminal conviction may permanently impair a person’s ability to maintain gainful work and provide for oneself. Some fields and industries may be off-limits to anyone with a conviction, and many companies are hesitant to recruit people who have one. Convicted felons, for instance, have a harder time getting jobs that require permits or clearances than the general population.
It is already difficult for people with convictions to find employment, and the time they spend in prison can cause them to lose valuable job skills, compounding the problem. These barriers to employment can add up to a substantial reduction in lifetime earnings, which can keep people in a cycle of poverty and increase the chance that they will re-offend.
Not only does the person convicted bear the financial consequences, but so do their loved ones and community. When a family’s main breadwinner is behind bars, they may experience living instability, food insecurity, and other difficulties. Children whose parents are in prison face increased odds of poverty, behavioral issues, and academic difficulties.
Additionally, when a large percentage of a community’s inhabitants are involved with the criminal justice system, the entire community may experience economic decline, weakened social bonds, and higher crime rates. This can lead to a vicious cycle of poverty and criminality.
The monetary toll that criminal convictions take on people, families, and communities could be mitigated through a number of policy shifts. For example:
- Reducing or eliminating cash bail: Pretrial supervision and unsecured bonds are two alternatives to cash bail that can help guarantee that people are not kept in jail purely because they cannot afford it.
- Expanding access to legal representation: Equalizing the playing field in the criminal justice system can be accomplished by increasing defendants’ access to quality legal counsel, regardless of their financial means.
- Reevaluating the use of fines and fees: Policymakers should reevaluate the use of fines and fees, bearing in mind the long-term effects on people, particularly those with limited financial resources, of imposing excessive fines and fees.
- Reducing barriers to employment: “Ban the box” initiatives and other policies that promote the hiring of people with criminal records can help increase job opportunities for people with convictions. Inmates can be better prepared for life after prison if they have access to educational and vocational initiatives while behind bars.
- Supporting families and communities: The financial effect of convictions can be lessened by providing resources and support services to families and communities impacted by the criminal justice system.
More than just financial losses can be incurred due to a criminal sentence. The monetary cost affects not just the person but also their friends, neighbors, and country as a whole.
Addressing this issue requires a comprehensive approach, from reevaluating the use of fines and fees to removing barriers to employment and investing in community support. By acting in this way, we can create a criminal justice system that treats everyone fairly and reduces the pecuniary impact of a conviction.