PROJECTCatalyst Grant Program



Alabama Appleseed

Jefferson County Equitable Fines and Fees Project   

Jefferson County, AL   

Legal financial obligations (LFOs), commonly called fines and fees, often burden people involved in the legal system. The discretionary decisions of judges, law enforcement officers, and prosecutors are the leading cause of these obligations. In Alabama, a 2018 Alabama Appleseed survey found that many system-involved people desperate to pay these debts went without necessities, used predatory loans, committed additional crimes, or were jailed at some point because of their unpaid LFOs. This harmful practice demonstrates and perpetuates the socioeconomic and racial disparities in the criminal legal system, including in Alabama, where the population is 27 percent Black but the jail and prison populations are approximately 55 percent Black. And in Alabama, LFOs are overly imposed on the people who can least afford to pay them, making them a form of racialized wealth extraction that exacerbates Alabama’s racial wealth gap.    

With Catalyst Grant funding, Alabama Appleseed, in partnership with the University of Alabama, aims to mitigate and highlight the harms caused by LFOs. It plans to provide analysis, guidance, and tools to support system actors in designing and implementing effective, sustainable change to eliminate racial disparities in the imposition of LFOs while making the collection process less onerous for those who can least afford to pay. It has two aims in conducting fiscal analysis of the data: (1) identify factors that influence whether and how long it takes people to pay off their LFOs, and (2) evaluate how the LFO amount a person owes compares with the resources required to collect that LFO. To answer these questions, Alabama Appleseed will use data on countywide cases involving LFOs in Jefferson County, census data, and interviews with relevant system actors.    


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