...Using the U.S. Census’s Survey of Local and State Finances, we investigated the proportion of revenues that cities typically receive from fines, as well as the characteristics of cities that rely on fines the most. What are these cities like? Are they rich or poor? In certain parts of the country? Heavily Black or White?
We found one demographic that was most characteristic of cities that levy large amounts of fines on their citizens: a large African American population. Among the fifty cities with the highest proportion of revenues from fines, the median size of the African American population—on a percentage basis—is more than five times greater than the national median.
Surprisingly, we found that income had very little connection to cities’ reliance on fines as a revenue source. Municipalities that are overwhelming White and non-Hispanic do not exhibit as much excessive fining, even if they are poor.
Our analysis indicates that the use of fines as a source of revenue is not a socioeconomic problem, but a racial one. The cities most likely to exploit residents for fine revenue are those with the most African Americans...