People who have been convicted of a crime and are striving to move forward with their lives often face fines and fees on top of their sentence, well after serving time in jail or prison. These criminal fines and fees disproportionately harm low-income people who are leaving the criminal justice system and are trying to get back on their feet. These fees drive many into homelessness, poverty, and recidivism. In response, today the Board of Supervisors approved a motion, authored by Supervisor Hilda L. Solis and co-authored by Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, to eliminate the administrative fees that the County has jurisdiction to dismiss.
“Collection of these fees and fines drive people into debt and push low-income families and communities of color deeper into poverty and that is unjust,” said Supervisor Solis, the motion’s author. “Most justice-involved individuals struggle to make ends meet once they reintegrate into society, even though they are eager to rehabilitate and rebuild their lives. With the elimination of County administrative fees, justice-involved individuals and their families have a better chance at successfully stabilizing their lives and of contributing positively to their communities, instead of facing a future filled with poverty, despair, homelessness, recidivism, and incarceration.”
These administrative fees are not only harmful, but they are also difficult to collect and do not yield a profit. A December 2019 report back from the County’s Chief Executive Officer found that the County experiences little or no fiscal gain from criminal fines and fees. Since 2014, Courts have a yearly average assessment of $121 million against individuals, but only collected an average of $11.4 million—only nine percent of the total amount. Of that, the County on average received $4.5 million, only four percent of the total. The current outstanding balance of uncollected fines, fees, and restitution is a total of $1.8 billion over the last 50 years, which underscores the fact that justice-involved individuals have a tough time paying these debts.
“When people are released from jail, they are often dogged by County fees and fines associated with their case,” said Supervisor Kuehl, the motion’s co-author. These fees, which typically range from several hundred to several thousand dollars, don’t enhance public safety or meaningfully contribute to the public coffer, and they do active harm to men and women released from jail who are struggling to reestablish stable, law-abiding lives, as well as their families who draw on their own frequently-strained resources to try and pay them.
People with a criminal record face a host of barriers as they transition back into society, including securing housing, employment, maintaining or improving credit, dealing with suspended driving privileges, reunifying with their families and meeting child support obligations. Studies by the Brennan Justice Center, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights found that the accumulation of fines and fees, including late fees, collection fees, and interest charges, entrap these individuals in a cycle of poverty. Failure to pay these fines or fees can result in re-incarceration or delayed discharge of probation supervision, creating additional barriers to successful re-entry.
Today’s motion directs pertinent County Departments to stop accepting payments for criminal justice fees recouped by the County, and to release people from all related outstanding debts. The list of fines, fees, and penalties that may be forgiven include, but are not limited to:
- work furlough fees
- misdemeanor diversion fees
- returned check fees
- drug diversion program fees
- emergency medical services fees
- pretrial electronic monitoring fees
- County jail booking fees
- community education training program fees
- Probation supervision fees
- public defender fees
The motion also instructs that justice-involved individuals must be notified that they should stop paying these fees immediately, and it also requires a quarterly report back on how the elimination of these fees may affect County Departments that relied on them for revenue. Lastly, this motion also directs the County to submit a five-signature letter in support of a related bill at the state level, SB 144, to Gov. Gavin Newsom, and State Senators Holly Mitchell, Robert Hertzberg, and Nancy Skinner. The letter will request that the state offer alternative funding sources to cover potential local revenue losses.
In May 2018, a motion, authored by Supervisor Solis and passed by the Board of Supervisors, called for a plan to discontinue collection of fees assessed for youth detention in Probation custody. In November 2018, another motion, also authored by Supervisor Solis and passed by the Board of Supervisors, eliminated continued acceptance and collection of these juvenile detention fees.
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