FFJC Releases COVID-19 Policy Recommendations

Fines and Fees Justice Center Releases COVID-19 Policy Recommendations

Dozens of State and Local Jurisdictions Enacting Emergency Measures to Protect Public Health and Scale Back Criminalization of Poverty

Today, the Fines and Fees Justice Center is releasing a set of 12 evidence-based policy recommendations that jurisdictions around the country can take to help stem the harms of our ongoing public health and economic crisis.

The recommendations urge state and local governments to make immediate changes to their criminal, traffic and municipal ordinance fines and fees policies to protect public health and ensure that fines and fees are not a barrier to people’s basic needs throughout this emergency. 

“In this unprecedented crisis, paying court fines and fees should be the last thing a family worries about,” said Joanna Weiss, co-director of the Fines and Fees Justice Center. “People are losing their jobs, access to health care, and soon will face losing their homes. State and local governments should take immediate action to prevent further economic harms to communities that are already being devastated.”

The recommendations include:

  • End all collection of fines, fees and court debt, including but not limited to: payments due under payment plans, wage garnishment, property liens, off-sets of tax refunds, unemployment insurance and other public benefits, especially those related to housing.
  • State and local jurisdictions should stop suspending driver’s license suspensions for unpaid fines and fees or for not appearing in court, and reinstate driver’s licenses suspended for non-safety reasons.
  • Local governments should stop issuing parking tickets and municipal code violations that do not impact public safety, and stop booting, towing and impounding vehicles for unpaid fines and fees.
  • Fees or co-pays for medical care for people in custody should be waived.

Numerous jurisdictions across the U.S. are already taking some of these steps in response to the coronavirus crisis. The Maine court system has vacated all outstanding warrants for unpaid fines and fees. Minnesota is halting driver’s license suspensions for unpaid fines and fees, while suspending late fees and new referrals for collections. At the local level, some counties like Oklahoma’s Osage County are suspending enforcement of outstanding warrants in all non-violent cases.

“Our regressive system of funding basic government services through fines and fees puts an unfair burden on economically vulnerable communities, especially communities of color,” said Lisa Foster, co-director of the Fines and Fees Justice Center.  “Now more than ever, state and local governments need to strengthen impacted communities, not rely on them to balance their budgets.”  

Read FFJC’s recommendations and track ongoing reforms here.

Media Contacts: 

Jag Davies, FFJC Communications Director

Lisa Foster, FFJC Co-Director

Joanna Weiss, FFJC Co-Director