Court-Ordered Debt

The COURT-ORDERED DEBT CHAPTER gives a basic overview of court-ordered debt to help you understand the money you may owe because of your past court involvement. You will learn the different kinds of court-ordered debt, what happens to these debts while you are incarcerated, and how these debts can affect you when you return to the community.

DISCLAIMER – YOUR RESPONSIBILITY WHEN USING THIS GUIDE: When putting together the Roadmap to Reentry: A California Legal Guide, we did our best to give you useful and accurate information. However, the laws change frequently and are subject to differing interpretations. We do not always have the resources to make changes to this informational material every time the law changes. If you use information from the Roadmap to Reentry legal guide, it is your responsibility to make sure that the law has not changed and applies to your particular situation. If you are incarcerated, most of the materials you need should be available in your institution’s law library. The Roadmap to Reentry guide is not intending to give legal advice, but rather legal information. No attorney-client relationship is created by using any information in this guide. You should always consult your own attorney if you need legal advice specific to your situation.


Many people coming home from prison or jail are surprised to find that they owe lots of money to various courts, agencies, and people. The money you owe can make it very hard to get back on your feet, which can leave you feeling frustrated and discouraged.

Unfortunately, this Chapter includes a lot of BAD NEWS about court-ordered debt because most of the laws that control court-ordered debt are NOT in your favor. However, reentry advocates—and even some politicians— who realize that this kind of debt harms not only formerly incarcerated people who are trying to start over, but also the communities they are returning to, are working to change these laws. In the meantime, this Chapter will give you some important information to help you better understand your rights, responsibilities, and opportunities when it comes to managing money that you owe due to your past court involvement (referred to in the rest of the Chapter as “court-ordered debt”).

  1. What is court-ordered debt and why do I need to know about it?
  2. I’ve never received anything telling me that I owe money; so I must not have any court-ordered debt, right?
  3. What are the different types of court ordered debt?
  4. A Basic Overview of Court-Ordered DebT RESTITUTION

    1. What is restitution?
    2. Is it possible to owe more than one type of restitution?
    3. Who is considered a “victim” to recover victim restitution?
    4. Court fines and penalties

    5. Court administrative fees

    6. Traffic fines and tickets


    1. How do I find out how much court-ordered debt I owe?
    2. I haven’t ever received notice that I owe any money for restitution, so I probably don’t, right?
    3. I know how much restitution I owe. Can a court order more restitution after I’ve already been sentenced?
    4. Court fines and penalties and court administrative fees

    5. Traffic fines & fees

  6. paying off or “satisfying” my court-ordered debt

    1. Restitution

    2. Court fines, penalties & administrative fees

    3. Traffic fines and fees

    4. Reducing or Forgiving Court-Ordered Debt


  8. Court-Ordered Debt Appendix