The US Department of Justice’s investigation into the Ferguson, MO police department blew the lid off of a hidden, nationwide scandal. Too many police departments and courts all over the country were using predatory fines and fees to extract wealth from their communities’ poorest citizens. In many states, these abuses were inextricably bound up with deeply entrenched patterns of racist law enforcement. After Ferguson, it felt like a long overdue reckoning was near at hand.

Seven years after the DoJ published its Ferguson report, have we made any progress? Did the reckoning ever happen? This paper draws upon nationwide research by the National Center for Access to Justice (NCAJ) at Fordham Law School to provide some insight into this question. NCAJ’s Fines and Fees index ranks all 50 states based on whether they have adopted policies that are essential to any rights-respecting approach to monetary sanctions. Overall, the results are grim—not nearly enough has changed and some states are trending in the wrong direction. On the other hand, there has been widespread progress on some issues. There are reasons for optimism, and there are lessons in the data for activists who want to think pragmatically about how to realize change.

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