The over-penalisation of poverty through fines and fees

PRI: In many countries around the world, criminal justice fines disproportionately affect the poorest and most marginalised in society, effectively creating tiered justice systems. In this blog, Jean Galbraith and Rheem Brooks from the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School summarise the findings of new research and discuss what international human rights and criminal justice communities can do to combat the use of poverty penalties.

Fines are a common sanction in countries in all regions of the world. They also pose a significant risk of economic discrimination. Unless they are perfectly scaled to defendants’ financial circumstances, they over-penalise people living in poverty both directly and by triggering additional sanctions where defendants cannot afford to pay. These effects add up to what we call “poverty penalties”: tougher punishments for low-income people resulting from inadequately scaled fines and their snowballing consequences.

In our article “Poverty Penalties as Human Rights Problems” published in the American Journal of International Law in July 2023 together with five other co-authors, we explore harmful poverty penalties around the world and discuss the human rights concerns they raise. We have drawn on the work of domestic scholars, activists, and journalists to identify laws or practices in many countries, including (among others): Australia, Brazil, China, Croatia, Denmark, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, France, Germany, Ghana, Great Britain, Hungary, India, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Mexico, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, Poland, Qatar, Romania, Russia, South Korea, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Read full blog post: The over-penalisation of poverty through fines and fees

Photo by Tungsten Rising on Unsplash

27 October, 2023
Type of Update:
Updates from our Partners
Courts Systems
Fees and Fines
Human Rights
Pre-trial Detention
Australia & the Pacific Islands
Latin America & the Caribbean
Middle East
North America
Campaign Partners:
Penal Reform International

The Campaign to Decriminalise Poverty and Status is a coalition of organisations from across the world that advocate for the repeal of laws that target people based on poverty, status or for their activism.


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