We all should have what we need to support our families and a valued voice in the decisions that affect our lives, regardless of whether we have been impacted by the criminal justice system.

In Washington state, life after incarceration is difficult as people struggle to obtain housing, employment, education, and reunite with family. Our system of court-imposed fines and fees, called Legal Financial Obligations (LFOs) trap many people and their families into cycles of debt and poverty. Nearly every person convicted in a Washington court receives a bill for LFOs at sentencing. The bill can include the cost of a public defender and a flat charge for each day spent in jail. Furthermore, Washington law mandates that LFOs have an annual interest rate of 12 percent – one of the highest in the nation. Most people assigned LFOs have limited incomes and struggle to pay these fines after incarceration.

In 2018, the legislature voted to pass strong reforms to our state’s LFO system. Courts now must take a person’s ability to repay into account, allowing judges to waive interest on LFOs that are not considered restitution. The 2018 law also prohibits the practice of jailing people who cannot afford to pay their LFOs. But, even with these important reforms, many in our community still struggle to pay, limiting the chance to reach stability and get ahead.

What We’re Doing About It

Poverty Action supports policies that provide the opportunity for us to reclaim our lives and support our families following incarceration:

  • Eliminate mandatory fines and fees at sentencing and expand who qualifies for waived interest so that fewer of us impacted by the criminal justice system get trapped in LFO debt in the first place.