Punishment and penal activity : the expansion of legal fines and fees in Texas from 1985 to 2015
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Across the United States, legal fines and fees generate millions of dollars per year in revenue despite widening the net of criminalization and increasing penal severity for poorer individuals. Unlike in other penal policy domains, legal fines and fees represent an ambiguously defined form of punishment that has received bipartisan support. Understudied is how legal fines and fees have become an increasingly preferred policy choice among state-level political actors. In this study, I use archival data on legal statutes and legislative sessions in Texas – home to one of the largest prison and jail system in the U.S. – to investigate the development of legal fines and fees across a 30-year period. I use insights from socio-political and legal theories to offer a comprehensive analysis of the structure of legislative policy networks and the development of legal fines and fees legislation. I demonstrate that both liberal and conservative political actors facilitated the passage of legal debt legislation. Furthermore, I consider the role of legislative testimony to show the association between testimony and the rate of legislation on legal fines and fees. I discuss the implications of my findings for understanding how policy networks and legislative activity are related to criminal justice outcomes and are influenced by a variety of social actors. My study contributes to theoretical explanations on the roles of state actors in developing policies that become increasingly implicated in social inequalities.
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