While potential adverse consequences of carrying criminal justice debt are well documented, less is known empirically about the degree to which both assessed amounts reflect ability to pay and how repayment success varies for individuals with dissimilar financial means. This study uses fine, cost, and restitution imposition and collection data from the Administrative Office of the Pennsylvania Courts (AOPC) that spans a ten year period to examine whether there are differences in assessment and outstanding debt balances between defendants with private counsel and defendants with public defenders. To address the research aims, this study utilizes straightforward descriptive and bivariate statistics. Results indicate that a typical defendant with a public defender is assessed less in fine, cost, and/or restitution than a typical defendant with private counsel, suggesting that some courts are factoring in a defendant’s ability to pay when imposing assessments. Nonetheless, a typical defendant represented by a public defender is unable to fully repay their assessment within a decade. This is in stark contrast to a typical defendant with private counsel who is able to settle up within three to five years, depending on the type of sanction. The findings suggest that sentencing stage adjustments in financial sanctions necessitated by a defendant’s ability to pay may not be sufficient. Furthermore, the general rise in assessment amounts over time is largely due to increased costs. Given general difficulties in debt settlement, especially among indigent defendants, enhanced reliance on costs may unintentionally affect restitution amounts received by crime victims.

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