The use of legal financial obligations, colloquially referred to as financial sanctions, imposed on individuals who come into contact with the criminal justice system is widespread and growing in the U.S. criminal justice system. Qualitative studies and reports from public policy institutes, such as the Brennan Center for Justice and the Hamilton Project, have shown that even initially small fees and fines are generating serious social and economic consequences, particularly among low-income populations who are unable to pay them on time. These costs may outweigh the intended benefits, such as deterring crime, compelling court appearances, and making restitution, of financial sanctions.
Current research is hampered by data availability and lack of exogenous variation needed for causal identification, leading to limited understanding of the impact of financial sanctions. Even with exogenous variation, data used in these existing studies only cover short-term consequences of the individuals and cannot take into account spillover effects on family members, which may lead to under measuring the consequences of financial sanctions (Dobbie et al., 2018; Mello, 2020; Hansen, 2015).
The goal of this project is to evaluate the economic and social consequences of financial sanctions in the justice system on affected individuals and their families. To achieve this, we will leverage the Criminal Justice Administrative Record System (CJARS), combined with individual-level demographic and economic data held by the U.S. Census Bureau. Using these data, we will measure the short-term and long-term criminal and economic consequences. Furthermore, we will link individuals to their family members to assess spillover effects on their spouses and children, significantly improving the current understanding of financial sanctions.
The nature of legal financial obligations can vary widely, including differences in monetary amount, the offenses to which they attach and correspondingly the populations affected, when in the justice system they are applied, and how payment can be made. Such details likely mediate the causal impact of a given financial obligation, and raise the need to study such interventions across a variety of contexts before drawing conclusive findings. To address this concern, this project will study a number of natural experiments across a variety of states, using CJARS? multi-state data, to document potential heterogeneous impacts and understand mediating channels.
The increasing use of financial sanctions nationwide necessitates a rigorous study of how legal financial obligations affect crime, economic, and social outcomes across different states and jurisdictions. The proposed research achieves this by analyzing similar financial sanctions across different states, allowing for heterogeneity analysis across individuals and jurisdictions. Further, we augment our analysis by including three types of financial sanctions applied at different stages of the justice system. Our multi-state analysis will broaden the current understanding of financial sanctions by providing analysis extending beyond initial outcomes to include long-term outcomes of the individual and their family across multiple types of financial sanctions.
This project will have three broader impacts: 1) new evidence on the socio-economic impacts of legal financial obligations on individuals? and their families; 2) public dissemination of results to multiple academic disciplines (e.g. criminology, law, and economics), and to policy makers, public administrators, and other non-technical stakeholder audiences; and, 3) promotion of diverse representation in science through mentorship and training of postdoctoral and staff researchers from underrepresented backgrounds.