Unprecedented growth in the size of the U.S. jail and prison populations during the late 20th century was accompanied by rapid increases in the size of the probation population. Probation, while intended to be an alternative to incarceration, has been described as a pathway to an incarceration stint because of its onerous conditions and other requirements. An emerging literature is examining how one of these conditions, legal financial obligations (e.g., fines, supervision fees, restitution), affect probation outcomes. However, this research is limited because data on legal financial obligations often do not detail the various types, amounts, and frequencies of payments toward LFO debt. In this paper, we tap the 1995 Survey of Adults on Probation (SAP) to study the impacts of debt burden (e.g., the amount, frequency, and type of LFO) on probationers’ capacity to make the required payments. Importantly, we find that of the seven types of LFOs included in the SAP, restitution alone was consistently shown to be the LFO associated with missing a payment across model specifications. Although the SAP data are from 1995, research indicates the use of LFOs has expanded since then. Thus, we are more likely to underestimate the impacts of the differential burden of specific LFOs on people on probation.

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