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Enforcement of Fines as Criminal Sanctions - The English Experience and Its Relevance to American Practice

NCJ Number
Date Published
November 1986
54 pages
This executive summary presents findings from a study of four English magistrates' courts with respect to strategies for setting and enforcing criminal fine sentences.
The study analyzed cases from three urban and one town magistrates' courts that target offenders convicted of nontrivial offenses who were at risk of receiving a prison sentence and who, because of their poverty, were at risk of nonpayment if fined as an alternative sentence. The data suggest that fines are near the core of English sentencing policy and are used frequently for nontrivial offenses and for offenders characterized by prior offense records and limited financial means. In setting fine amounts, magistrates emphasize the severity of the offense and do not always thoroughly review information available on the offender's means. The study results support the contention that fines, when rationally set in relation to means as well as offense severity, can be collected from offenders, even when they are poor. Courts with the most successful fine enforcement strategies are those that use short terms for payment and that identify nonpayment swiftly and react rapidly. Enforcement tactics involve a steady progression of responses characterized by mounting pressure and increasing threat of more coercive techniques. The study presents policy recommendations for American courts interested in expanding their use of fines and suggestions to improve operations in English magistrates' courts. Tables and 17 references. (Author abstract modified)

Date Published: November 1, 1986