Monetary sanctions: Legal financial obligations in US systems of justice

Karin D. Martin, Bryan L. Sykes, Sarah Shannon, Frank Edwards, Alexes Harris

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

73 Scopus citations


This review assesses the current state of knowledge about monetary sanctions, e.g., fines, fees, surcharges, restitution, and any other financial liability related to contact with systems of justice, which are used more widely than prison, jail, probation, or parole in the United States. The review describes the most important consequences of the punishment of monetary sanctions in the United States, which include a significant capacity for exacerbating economic inequality by race, prolonged contact and involvement with the criminal justice system, driver’s license suspension, voting restrictions, damaged credit, and incarceration. Given the lack of consistent laws and policies that govern monetary sanctions, jurisdictions vary greatly in their imposition, enforcement, and collection practices of fines, fees, court costs, and restitution. A review of federally collected data on monetary sanctions reveals that a lack of consistent and exhaustive measures of monetary sanctions presents a unique problem for tracking both the prevalence and amount of legal financial obligations (LFOs) over time. We conclude with promising directions for future research and policy on monetary sanctions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)497-515
Number of pages19
JournalAnnual Review of Criminology
StatePublished - 2018
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Law


  • Fines
  • Legal financial obligations
  • Monetary sanctions


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