When a person is convicted of a crime, in addition to serving time in jail or prison, they often face fines, fees, and penalties. These fees are incurred at nearly every stage of the criminal justice system, and are used to generate revenue for various criminal justice agencies.
Advocates say that these fines and fees make it even more difficult for those exiting the criminal justice system to get back on their feet, pushing them into poverty, homelessness, and even crime and recidivism.
The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, April 16 approved a motion, authored by Supervisor Hilda L. Solis and co-authored by Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, to examine the application of fines, fees, and penalties, and determine the feasibility of eliminating some or all of these fines.
“Collecting fees for detention undermines rehabilitation, successful reintegration into society, and public safety,” said Solis. “It also unnecessarily increases the financial insecurity of vulnerable families. As part of a larger, transformative reexamination of how we serve our justice-involved residents, LA County is reexamining our approach to criminal justice. If these fines and fees are eliminated, justice-involved individuals, their families, and whole communities might have better opportunities for success, rather than a future filled with poverty, homelessness, recidivism, and incarceration.”
The motion directs the County’s criminal justice agencies, other County departments, and community stakeholders including those with lived experience, to report back to the Board of Supervisors in 120 days with a detailed report of the fines, fees, and penalties levied against adults in the criminal justice system.
The report would also include a feasibility study of eliminating the fees, fines, and penalties the County has the discretion to eliminate, the financial impact of the elimination of these fees to the County and other agencies, and develop a timeline for the elimination of these fees, fines, and penalties.
“These fees do more harm than good. They trap people sentenced for crimes, and their families, in an endless spiral of debt. When inmates can’t pay, the financial burden falls on their family, which may explain why 83% of these fees are ultimately paid by women. This motion represents a first step in ending punitive fees making it just a little easier for men and women who have been justice-involved to build positive lives for themselves,” said Kuehl.
People with criminal justice system involvement already face tremendous barriers to successful re-entry into society, including securing housing or employment, suspended driving privileges, maintaining or improving credit, and meeting child support obligations. Studies by the Brennan Justice Center, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights have found that the accumulation of fines and fees, including late fees, collection fees, and interest charges, push formerly justice-involved individuals into poverty or even deeper into poverty. According to a national study on criminal justice fines and fees by the Brennan Justice Center, failure to pay these fines or fees can also result in re-arrest or delayed discharge of Probation supervision, creating further barriers to successful re-entry.
These fines and fees have also been shown to disproportionately impact people of color. Further, a national survey of formerly incarcerated people by the Ella Baker Center found that families often bear the burden of fees, and that 83 percent of the people responsible for paying these costs are women.
The list of fines, fees, and penalties that may be levied against adults who become involved with the criminal justice system include, but are not limited to: probation supervision fees; probation installment collection fees; pre-sentence, investigation, and progress report fees; drug and alcohol testing fees; and county jail booking fees.
In May 2018, a motion, authored by 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 Solis and passed by the Board, eliminated continued acceptance and collection of these juvenile detention fees.