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Fees, Fines and Fairness: How Monetary Charges Drive Inequity in New York City’s Criminal Justice System

This report from the New York City Comptroller’s Office draws from a wide range of data from city and state agencies, the New York City Criminal Court, and other available sources to offer a comprehensive review of the money that the criminal justice system takes from people accused or convicted of crimes—often just a few pennies or dollars at a time, but in a manner that can add up to thousands of dollars over the course of a prison term. Analysis of this data reveals the harsh collateral consequences of failing to pay at each stage of criminal justice involvement and the many ways in which the system contributes to economic and racial inequality in New York City, and how administrative fees and surcharges represent a secondary form of punishment with impacts that often last years beyond a formal prison term. Mandatory court surcharges, fees to write an email, to transfer money to a loved one, to have a prison job, to be released on parole—these are just some of the ways the criminal justice system continues to extract wealth from low-income communities and ensnare individuals in a cycle of debt and obligation.

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