Legal Financial Obligations

LFOLegal Financial Obligations are the costs incurred by individuals convicted of crimes during the time they are incarcerated. Fees include court costs, fines and other legal assessments. They accrue at a rate of 12 percent and are issued at a critical time when individuals have served their time and are reentering society. LFOs trap families into cycles of poverty and debt, increase the risk of homelessness through ruined credit, and shift the costs of mass incarceration onto communities of color.

Some statistics about LFOs:

  • The average LFO debt in Washington is $2,500. With a 12% interest rate, consistent payments of $20 per month will NEVER pay off the debt.
  • Even when you compare people convicted of the same crime, which have the same criminal history, Latino defendants are sentenced to higher LFOs than anyone else.
  • Incarceration targets poor people. 80-90% of people charged with felonies in Washington are declared indigent by courts at the time of sentencing.
  • More than 114,000 people owe Legal Financial Obligations in the state of Washington.

Are you affected by Legal Financial Obligations or know someone who is? We want to hear from you.

Email: margaret@washingtoncan.org

2 thoughts on “Legal Financial Obligations

  1. I have been paying Benton County 4 years now plus they have incarcerated me 2X over not being able to pay my LFO I have been extradited out of other states because I am on disability I believe LFO are unfair 2 people who can’t afford to pay

  2. I have a juvenile felony from 1996, Theft 1st Degree, that was never removed from my record. I assumed that it was removed automatically at 18. But, I was wrong. I found out the hard way around when I applied for a job at a bank shortly after I turned 21. I was told about my record and then I looked into what I needed to do to fix it. I could not afford a lawyer and access to the internet was limited back then. Being unemployed, I soon could not afford to pay my car insurance any longer, then began a slippery slope of traffic citations, no insurance charges, which eventually cost me my license. I think I had 15 DWLS offenses on my record before I permanently quit driving. I have not driven a car since 2008. It has been real difficult to find and hold a job with my juvenile record and without the convenience of an automobile. My fines have all gone to collections. Anyways, I went into Whatcom County Court House, after having 2 years without commiting a crime, I was informed that there is no restitution for me to pay on the juvenile felony, but because of unpaid fines from other offenses owed to that court, they refuse to allow me a hearing to seal my juvenile record. Unpaid fines is what is holding my driver’s license, too.

    I wish that it were illegal for the courts in the state of Washington to send out fines to collections agencies. I did pay one traffic fine to a court in the state of Oregon, because the bill could be paid directly to the clerk and the interest only turned a $200 fine into a $202 fine after 5 years without a payment. I paid that one in full! Its the only one I ever paid. My dad says that one of the judges wifes created Alliance One to make a profit on poor criminals. I dont think that is right. Fines should not be made into profitable business. Fines should only supplement the court system and restitution should compensate the victims. These financial obligations shouldnt allow greedy credit agencies to fatten their wallets on the poor and desperate peoples dispositions. Most of us, it will take time for us to find and keep suitable employment, most of us do not drive, most of us cannot be hired, and for those of us like me… It is easier to not pay anything and bounce from job to job to avoid garnishment.

    There are loopholes, if you do your research. I bought a mini scooter with a 49cc engine and ten inch tires that dont require a license to get me to and from work using sidewalks and bicycle lanes. If only the state would make a bicycle licensing department, for scooter, mopeds, and commuter bikes that could become an alternative for those of us who cannot legally drive a car. The taxes on the licensing could help pay for them stupid bicycle lanes that every city is starting to put in. It might help other people from turning to crime, welfare, and find suitable employment again. It would definately be a good poor person’s affordable option.

    It would be nice to see something change. I gave up on those big plans I had to go to law school and I was a pretty smart student. I am glad that I chose not to turn to crime, but I know a good number of people in similar situations that are better off in jail or doing nothing in their relatives’ homes, collecting foodstamps to live off of or sell. Poverty and a lack of means does something to someones self-esteem. It is often easier to just give up for some people. Able-bodied people should be out in the work force. What is that saying about idle time and the devils work? It is no wonder so many of the poor turn to drugs and crime.

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