National Effort to Reform Local Fines & Fees Announces New City and County Members

A gavel on a stack of $100 bills on a table

A gavel on a stack of $100 bills on a table

By Kacie Williams

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Six new jurisdictions were announced this week to be new members of the Cities and Counties for Fine and Fee Justice, a network that started in San Francisco that pursues innovative local solutions toward reforming fines and fees. 

The leaders who are represented in this leadership network are from cities looking toward reforming their reliance on fines and fees. Instead, they hope to support public safety and economic prosperity for their residents. 

The cities currently supporting this reform include Chatham County, GA; Jefferson County, AL; Miami-Dade County, FL; Washtenaw County, MI; City of Wilmington, DE; and Wyandotte County and City of Kansas, KS. 

The system of fines and fees have penalized many Americans and perpetuates the cycle of poverty and punishment, according to Cities and Counties for Fine and Fee Justice, that argues this reform would attempt to ensure repercussions of fines and fees do not disproportionately affect low-income residents and people of color among other vulnerable communities. 

The Cities and Counties for Fine and Fee Justice, CCFFJ, is led by the Fines and Fees Justice Center, along with the City and County of San Francisco’s Financial Justice Project. 

The second jurisdiction will be supported with things such as customized technical and strategic assistance, which includes, access to policy, research, communications, and other data expertise on fines and fees policies. 

Each jurisdiction will be working directly with those communities which have been impacted. 

Priya Sarathy Jones, the Director of Campaigns and Policy at the Fines and Fees Justice Center said, “Policymakers from across the political spectrum are increasingly realizing that fines & fees reforms are a win-win situation both for struggling families and for their jurisdiction’s bottom line.”

Jones added, “For residents living on low incomes, a cascade of consequences sets in when they cannot pay: their debt grows, their license is suspended, their credit score plummets, their economic opportunities are diminished, and in some places they are arrested and jailed. No one wins in this situation.”

“Through San Francisco’s reforms we’ve been able to learn how to successfully hold people accountable without putting them in unstable financial situations,” Jones explained. 

Treasurer José Cisneros, who works within the San Francisco Financial Justice Project, said, “We can balance our budgets in common sense ways that are not on the backs of the least fortunate people in our communities.”

Within the new CCFFJ jurisdictions, reforms will be pursued to eliminate criminal justice fees, surcharges, penalties, and interest that may accrue someone unnecessary debt. This includes fees which come with incarceration such as phone calls and medical care. 

CCFFJ’s first cohort had enacted reformation to attempt to eliminate fees such as in-custody fees and municipal fees, forgiving outstanding debt, including to end debt-based driver’s license suspensions, among other actions. 

About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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