Fines, Fees, and Restitution Reforms
An Arkansan who is unable to pay fines and fees due to their financial circumstances faces possible incarceration unless a judge grants a motion to dismiss or satisfy the fines. Often, these motions are refused or the debtors simply never hear back from the court. Failure to pay fines and fees can lead to the issuance of a warrant, driver's license suspension, and an increase in the amount owed, trapping the offender in a cycle of debt and impeding their ability to support themselves and their family. Incarceration for nonpayment of fines or restitution amounts to little more than a debtor's prison and can further impede the ability of the individual to come up with the money that they owe.
Repayment of Fines and Fees
Instead of relying on a system that increases recidivism and is overly punitive, Arkansas should eliminate the fees that it levies on indigent individuals, particularly the public defender fee. According to a 2014 survey by NPR, the Brennan Center for Justice, and the National Center for State Courts, Arkansas currently imposes fees for court practices including electronic monitoring, probation or supervision, public defender or legal costs, and room and board while incarcerated. People are charged for services that the court is constitutionally obligated to provide. Such charges incentivize people facing incarceration to waive their right to legal counsel, which can jeopardize their right to fair trial.
In March 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice released an extensive compilation of research intended to help counties and states reform their fines and fees practices. Accordingly, Arkansas should eliminate court fees and reform how fines are assessed and collected.
Promising reforms implemented by other states include the day fines system, in which a person's initial fine for an offense is scaled to their income level. Arkansas should lead the way in reforming state statutes regarding court fees.