Impact of monetary sanctions on impoverished criminal defendants, their family, and the community
Gowdy, Elizabeth Ann
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Impoverished criminal defendants can experience issues of a societal nature, which can impede their ability to meet basic living needs. They face challenges in their daily lives due to poverty, employment, housing, racial discrimination, and the stigma of being labeled a criminal. Using a real-life point of view of impoverished criminal offenders, the impact of monetary sentencing laws, statutes, and policy can be better understood. The purpose of this qualitative research study was to explain the impact of court-imposed monetary sanctions on indigent defendants, their family, and the community of Athens/Clarke County (ACC). Additionally, this research provides a description of the current practices and patterns of monetary sanctions before, during, and after the economic recession of 2008 for the Western Judicial Circuit (WJC) Superior Court. The two research questions this study sought to answer were: (a) Were there different practices and patterns of monetary sanctions before, during, and after the economic recession, which occurred from December 1, 2007, through June 30, 2009, in the WJC? and (b) What is the impact of fines, fees, and additional expenses on impoverished criminal defendants, their family, and the community? The multiple case study design used court records and data collected during 33 face-to-face interviews. The findings indicated that the practices of imposed monetary sanctions before, during, and after the economic recession of 2008 were essentially the same for probation fees and bond amounts. Small differences existed in the number of defendants who received monetary sanctions and in the amounts. For the entire court records sample of 300 cases, 73% of defendants were given a monthly probation supervision fee as well as court fees. Further, 34% of the defendants were imposed a fine, while only 17% of defendants were ordered restitution. The findings were used to draw three conclusions: (a) even small monetary sanctions result in undue hardship; (b) impoverished defendants rely on family and friends to pay court-ordered monetary sanctions, along with additional fees and expenses from incarceration and probation; and (c) there is confusion surrounding defendants understanding of monetary sanctions. Implications for social work and recommendations for future research were presented.