The Hidden Cost of the Disease: Fines, Fees, and Costs Assessed on Persons With Alleged Substance Use Disorder

Publication Abstract

O'Neil, Meghan, and Daniel Strellman. 2020. "The Hidden Cost of the Disease: Fines, Fees, and Costs Assessed on Persons With Alleged Substance Use Disorder." UCLA Criminal Justice Law Review, 4(1).

The age-old adage "crime doesn't pay" is true in more ways than one. Persons experiencing substance use disorder (SUD) can rapidly amass criminal charges on any given day, given that the private use of controlled substances is illegal, as is driving while intoxicated. These repeated behaviors can, and frequently do, culminate in incarceration, supervision (e.g., probation or parole), and hefty fines and fees. Moreover, persons experiencing SUD are far from uncommon: in 2017, overdose became the leading cause of death for Americans under fifty, and in 2018, focus groups with state district court judges in Michigan estimated that four out of every five criminal defendants were experiencing problematic substance use-illuminating the overwhelming degree to which SUD permeates our criminal justice system. Practitioners, academics, and policymakers involved with the justice system ought to be concerned with the costs assessed in SUD cases because the costs can be potentially expensive to collect, excruciatingly burdensome on vulnerable people involved with the justice system trying to maintain sobriety and reenter society, and present a generally inefficient method of punishment when the cost of collection outweighs the total amount ultimately collected by the state.

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