Giving Compass' Take:

• Kathryn Zickuhr at D.C. Policy Center writes on data and research when it comes to applying a racial equity lens to fines and fees in Washington D.C. 

• How can donors and policymakers help to realign these incentive structures with the data provided in this article? 

• Here's how advancing racial equity can create business value. 

In recent years, jurisdictions across the country have increasingly turned to fines and fees[1]both as a policy mechanism and as a way to generate much-needed revenue, especially after the budget crunch from the Great Recession.[2] However, unlike taxes, fines and fees are usually the same for everyone, regardless of their income or ability to pay. In practice, this means these amounts are relatively larger for low-income people than for higher-income people; a $100 fine is a greater burden for someone earning $30,000 per year than someone earning $100,000 per year. They can also be interconnected, such as when the inability to pay a fee can lead to a fine, further devastating household budgets.

Fixed fines and fees can disproportionately harm families of color, both due to discriminatory practices in issuing fines and fees and in the systemic issues of income and wealth inequities that make it more difficult for these families to pay. These underlying inequities also mean that families of color are disproportionately likely to experience serious consequences of paying—or failing to pay—these costs. Furthermore, because these debts are owed to the government, fines and fees can often lead to more specific interlocking and compounding problems. Not only do the pressures of debt and the stress of financial shocks have immediate economic impacts on individuals and their families, but they can also lead to additional debt and increased involvement with the criminal justice system. The result, as sociologist Alexes Harris argues, is a two-tiered system of justice, where residents can experience vastly different outcomes solely as a result of their income level.

Read the full article about racial equity in the District of Columbia by Kathryn Zickuhr at D.C. Policy Center.