Criminal Debt:

Fines, Fees, and Court Costs

For low-income Texans, even a ticket for minor offenses like speeding, jaywalking, or driving without insurance can lead to devastating consequences. If a person is unable to pay the ticket right away, the costs can snowball quickly, resulting in more tickets, fines, and fees. Missing a court date or a payment can lead to additional costs, arrest warrants, driver license suspensions, and even jail time. Even just a couple of days in jail for failing to pay criminal debt can cause low-income people to lose their jobs, their housing, or even their children.

 

In higher level cases, fines and costs are often extremely high. Many courts even charge people for the costs of their court-appointed attorney. The problem has gotten so bad that many people convicted of crimes choose a jail sentence over probation due to concerns about keeping up with payments for fines, costs, and probation fees while on probation.

Our Work

TFDP works to end modern-day debtors' prison through litigation, public education, education of municipal policymakers and judges, and legislative advocacy:

Litigation – TFDP uses a combination of impact litigation, habeas writs, and individual representation to combat modern-day debtors' prisons. TFDP has investigated court practices and represented people jailed for inability to fines in many jurisdictions across Texas, including Waco, Austin, and White Settlement.

Legislative Advocacy – TFDP works in coalition with community and legislative allies to push for reforms relating to modern day debtors' prisons. TFDP has helped to pass legislation to help low-income Texans resolve fines and fees and limit warrants and incarceration for nonpayment. TFDP also successfully opposed many bills that would have driven people with criminal debt further into poverty.

Outreach and Education – TFDP has developed education campaigns, such as our Know Your Rights materials and presentations for individuals with unpaid fines and costs, as well as materials and reports for policymakers, judges, and the community at large.

Materials

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