Fines and fees are incredibly common penalties in the criminal justice system. They are issued in relation to a wide range of crimes, from DUI, to drug violations, to violent offenses.

These monetary penalties can get very large and can have deep impacts. They can put a heavy financial strain on a person as he or she tries to move forward from a criminal conviction. And when an individual falls behind in paying them, the consequences can be severe. Here in Minnesota, failure to pay such a fine or fee can put a person’s drivers’ license in danger. When people drive with a suspended or revoked license, it could expose them to further citations and fines. So, there can be the potential for hefty fines and fees to throw individuals into a vicious cycle.

There are also fairness questions that arise in connection to these impactful penalties. One thing that can be behind such concerns is that fines and fees can also be revenue sources for local governments. If counties and cities become dependent on criminal fines and fees to fund their regular operations, it can raise worries that something other than fairness and justice could be the driving force behind these penalties.

Ramsey County is part of a project aimed at in the criminal justice system. This initiative involves the Center for Justice and Safety Finance of the financial advisory firm PFM. Ramsey is one of three local governments in the U.S. that the center will be working with as part of this project (the other two being the cities of Dallas and Nashville).

The center will have a team work with county staffers to analyze what fines and fees Ramsey County is collecting and the impacts these penalties are having. This analysis will be used to build and propose a plan for reducing the use of fines and fees in the county.

Among the aims of the project is to uncover methods for local governments to avoid being financially reliant on these penalties.

One wonders what impacts the project will have in Ramsey County and if it will lead to any widespread changes in the state.

Do you think, overall, local governments in Minnesota use criminal fines and fees in a fair way? Are there any changes you would like to see made when it comes to the use of these penalties?