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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Washington: Study Finds Court Fines and Fees May Be Prolonging Homelessness

A new University of Washington School of Public Health study sustains a long-held argument that court-imposed fees and fines may keep the most vulnerable people ensnared in a vicious cycle of poverty and incarceration.

The researchers found that, among 101 adults experiencing homelessness in the Seattle area, people with outstanding legal debt spent two more years without stable housing than those without legal debt. The study was published June 4 in the Journal of Public Health.

According to lead author Ms. Jessica Mogk, this is the first study to examine whether legal financial obligations could predict how long people experience homelessness. The research was conducted as her capstone project for the Community-Oriented Public Health Practice program at the UW School of Public Health.

Overall, people in the study experienced an average of three and a half years of homelessness. Within this group, those with legal fine debt experienced nearly four and a half years of unstable housing on average. When compared to people without legal fine debt, the difference was much greater. These were the only type of debt found to be statistically significant, “potentially indicating these court-imposed fines are more detrimental to housing stability than other debts,” researchers wrote.

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