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Prisons and Mass Incarceration

Criminal Fees and Fines Increase Inequality

IPR associate Mary Pattillo (right), a sociologist and African American studies researcher, is investigating the impact of fees and fines on the criminal justice system, examining what variables—including race—are at play.

In a new study, part of a large research project investigating the origins and effects of monetary sanctions in eight states, sociologist and African American studies researcher and IPR associate Mary Pattillo analyzed current Illinois statutes that mandate fines, fees, restitution, and other legal costs imposed on people convicted of crimes. Pattillo and her colleague Brittany Friedman of Rutgers University argue that these statutes reflect our society’s ideologies about crime and offenders, notably strong emphases on personal responsibility and extended and lengthy punishment. The researchers discovered that Illinois defendants’ payments—which might amount to thousands of dollars—go to dozens of state and county agencies as well as to specific funds for causes such as sexual assault services, prescription disposal, and trauma treatment. The great majority of defendants are in poverty, but courts do not have adequate methods to determine and waive sanctions against impoverished people. Instead, unpaid fines and fees accrue interest and penalties, sending defendants deeper into debt and contributing to inequality. A 2018 Illinois law corrects some of these issues for fees, not fines or restitution, but its effects are still unfolding. Pattillo is the Harold Washington Professor of Sociology and African American Studies.

Is Juvenile Incarceration Self-Perpetuating?

Researchers are trying to better understand how incarceration affects young people, especially with regard to its impact on their health and long-term life outcomes.  Yet little is known about patterns of incarceration in this population, and how those patterns differ across sociodemographic subgroups. In a recent study published in Children and Youth Services Review, Anna Harrison, PhD, and behavioral scientist and IPR associate Linda Teplin with their co-authors examined such patterns over 14 years among a group of youth involved in the justice system.  They interviewed 1,829 youth who were detained in Cook County’s Juvenile Temporary Detention Center between 1995 and 1998. Nearly the entire sample—94% of males and 80% of females—were re-incarcerated at least once over the next 14 years. Moreover, more than 90% of males and more than half of females were incarcerated as adults. The researchers found that racial/ethnic disparities in juvenile incarceration mirror those of adult offenders.  Males and racial/ethnic minorities were far more likely to be incarcerated more frequently and for longer periods of time compared with women and non-Hispanic whites. Viewing this disproportionate level of incarceration as a public health issue, Teplin notes the higher rates of behavioral and mental health issues for youth entrenched in justice system. She and her colleagues urge policymakers to promote alternatives to incarceration to reduce health disparities. Teplin is the Owen L. Coon Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.