It is well known that the United States.
is the most punitive society in the world in the use of incarceration, and is in the “upper” tier of worldwide severity in use of the death penalty. Very recently, awareness has been growing that the United States, is equally exceptional for high rates of probation and parole supervision. What is not well appreciated is that the nation’s use of economic penalties has similarly gone far off course. Since the original Model Penal Code was approved in 1962, there has been steady growth in fine amounts, asset forfeitures, and a congeries of costs, fees, and assessments levied against offenders. In many cases, offenders’ total debt burdens overwhelm their abilities to establish minimally secure financial lives for themselves and their families. One widespread practice in American law is to impose economic penalties that stand little chance of being collected, with insufficient concern for their long-term impact on public safety.
The ongoing project to revise the Model Penal Code has given sustained attention to these issues. The economic sanctions provisions in the revised Code are not wholly finalized, but nearly so. With the exception of implementation detail in section
6.04A (dealing with victim restitution), an array of new provisions have now been approved by the American Law Institute, including sections on general principles for the imposition of economic penalties, restitution, fines, asset forfeitures, and costs, fees, and assessments. In every provision, the new Model Penal Code recommends significant changes in current legislation in every state. It is not too much to say that the Model Penal Code found the current state of American law on economic sanctions to be under-examined, unprincipled, and counterproductive to goals of public safety. Whether one agrees with all of the Model Penal Code recommendations or not, the American Law Institute has issued a call for a comprehensive reexamination of this neglected domain of sentencing law and policy.