Fine & Fee Initiative
Local governments across the country rely heavily on criminal fines and fees to fund their criminal justice system operations. Since 2010, 48 states have increased civil and/or criminal fees assessed on defendants. As a result, there have been more individuals who fail to pay a fine or fee can go to jail and accumulate debt that can never be repaid. There is a growing movement among policymakers to reduce or eliminate this revenue source. For some, the cost to maintain the system of fines and fees (e.g. staff to manage collections, law enforcement effecting arrests and jailing people for unpaid debt, and judges and prosecutors handling these cases on their dockets) exceeds the benefit of the revenue. For others, litigation or justice-related concerns are propelling a desire for change.
As elected officials turn away from fines and fees from the criminal justice system as a revenue source, budget and finance directors will need to take the lead to maintain revenue levels and/or identify cost savings. To reduce reliance on fines and fees, local governments need support in developing plans that allow reforms to go forward without a negative fiscal impact. This free technical assistance will allow selected county-level jurisdictions to tackle this challenge in a way they likely cannot do otherwise.
CJSF will provide free technical assistance to selected county-level
governments with a population of 100,000 or more residents to
assess the financial impact of each jurisdiction’s current use of
fines and fees, and work with each to develop a plan that will
phase out their use.
CJSF will identify alternative revenue sources
and opportunities to reduce expenses that are specific to each
jurisdiction, and will recommend policy and statutory changes
that may be needed to proceed.
CJSF will engage judges, law enforcement and other
criminal justice officials early in the process to ensure their
support in making policy changes.
Fines & Fees IN THE NEWS
IllinoisOn August 20, 2018, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed the Criminal and Traffic Assessment Act into law after the bipartisan Statutory Court Fee Task Force issued a report in 2016. Effective July 1, 2019, the Criminal and Traffic Assessment Act streamlines and standardizes court costs, fines, and fees; and establishes a system of waivers for low-income individuals who cannot afford to pay their fines and fees.
Statutory Court Fee Task Force: Illinois Court Assessments Findings and Recommendations for Addressing Barriers to Access to Justice and Additional Issues Associated with Fees and Other Court Costs in Civil, Criminal, and Traffic Proceedings
Rockford Record Star: "Legislation’s Goal: Simplify Court Fee Structure"
San Francisco, CA
San Francisco is the first jurisdiction in the country to eliminate the use of administrative fees, citing that the fees create and reinforce cycles of poverty. In August 2018, following the city’s decision to eliminate administrative fees, the San Francisco Superior Court forgave $32.7 million in unpaid court fees owed by those who have been in jail or on probation. The city estimates it will lose about $1 million per year in unassessed fees, largely from probation fees, but will close the gap with general fund dollars.
San Francisco Treasurer and The Financial Justice Project: Criminal Justice Administrative Fees: High Pain for People, Low Gain for Government
San Francisco Chronicle: "S.F. Ordinance Targets Fees Faced by Poor Defendants"
Alameda County, CA
Alameda County’s Probation Department, Sheriff’s Office, and public defender’s office initiated the process to eliminate criminal justice fines and fees. In December 2018, the Board of Supervisors agreed to end the assessment of administrative fees and retroactively forgive $26 million in outstanding debt for 34,000 people. The county estimates it will lose about $1.45 million per year in unassessed fees. However, it hopes to offset the loss with funds from Assembly Bill 109, which state legislators passed in 2011 to redirect money for state corrections to programs in local jurisdictions for low-level offenders.
San Francisco Chronicle: