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Trapped

The Effect of Criminal Debt on Reentry

The criminal justice system has increasingly imposed fees, costs, and charges as well as fines and restitution amounts, on people who are convicted, or sometimes merely accused, of crimes over the past decade. The result: a dramatic increase in debt among people with conviction records. Such indebtedness exacerbates the challenges facing them by reducing family income, limiting access to housing, credit, transportation, and employment, exposing them to reincarceration for parole violations (not paying debt owed the court, etc.), and even increasing the likelihood of re-offending. For many of these individuals it is not a willful decision not to pay, but rather a lack of income, assets, and resources to pay that keeps them in debt. As a result, an individual can become trapped in the complex web of the criminal justice system, debt, and poverty.

On September 12, 2013, the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, the ACLU, Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, and the Illinois Asset Building Group cosponsored a webinar exploring criminal defendant/prisoner debt in the U.S. and its effects on reentry and asset building opportunities. American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) attorneys Carl Takei and Eric Balaban discussed recent data on the level criminal debt and its impacts on individuals and society at large. Rebecca Vallas, an attorney with the National Organization of Social Security Claimants' Representatives, and Sharon Dietrich, Managing Attorney with Community Legal Services, examined effective programs and policies for mitigating such impacts.

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