Advocates & Lawmakers Renew Push for Legislation to Eliminate Predatory Court Fines and Fees With Rally Outside Manhattan Criminal Court Today
Lawmakers Who Taxed the Rich Now Call on New York To Undo the Harm of Regressive Court Fees that Criminalize Poverty
NEW YORK, NY — This morning, elected officials, advocates, and people impacted by New York’s predatory court fines and fees rallied in front of Manhattan Criminal Court to demand an end to the criminalization of poverty and the passage of the End Predatory Court Fees Act in the final two months of New York’s legislative session.
The End Predatory Court Fees Act would eliminate court, parole & probation fees, mandatory minimum fines, incarceration on the basis of unpaid fines and fees, and garnishment of commissary accounts.
New York imposes automatic court fees on every single conviction, including traffic tickets. Court fees, mandatory minimum fines, and parole and probation fees fall disproportionately on poor, Black and Latinx communities.
The No Price On Justice campaign’s recent report — New York’s Ferguson Problem — shows how the state’s reliance on fines and fees revenue encourages policing-for-profit, criminalizes poverty, and endangers Black and brown lives.
Lawmakers who passed legislation to ensure New York’s wealthiest pay their fair share through progressive taxation called on New York to now undo the harm of New York’s regressive, ineffective and predatory revenue generation through the court system.
Last year, California passed the most far-reaching fee elimination reforms to date, ending the collection of 23 fees charged to people in the criminal justice system — such as fees for public defenders, local booking fees, and probation and parole fees — and forgiving $16 billion in court debt. Momentum is building in numerous states around the U.S. for similar reforms.
The rally featured New Yorkers impacted by onerous court fines and fees who are leaders of the No Price on Justice Campaign. They were joined by bill sponsors Senator Julia Salazar and Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou, as well as New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer. Other state lawmakers speaking at the rally included Senators Brad Hoylman, Assemblymember Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, and Assemblymember Harvey Epstein. The rally was organized by Center for Community Alternatives, New York Communities for Change, and the Fines and Fees Justice Center as part of the No Price on Justice campaign.
“My son just came home from prison and I am still working overtime just to help him pay off court fines and fees,” said Peggy Herrera, member of Center for Community Alternatives and a leader of the No Price on Justice Campaign. “Even my recent stimulus check went to pay off fines. It’s not fair to put that kind of stress on a person who just came home. This heartless practice is nothing but a shakedown of people who can’t afford it. It doesn’t generate revenue, it just creates more poverty.”
“The criminalization of poverty is pervasive throughout our criminal justice system, and it must be stopped,” said Senator Julia Salazar, Chair of the Corrections Committee and lead sponsor of the End Predatory Court Fees Act. “Court debt places a financial burden on people interacting with the legal system and their families. If the debt of an incarcerated person isn’t paid off by a family member, it is often deducted from the individual’s already low wages that they rely on for paying costs of necessities such as contacting their families. We must pass the End Predatory Court Fees Act that will eliminate criminal court, parole and probation fees and mandatory minimum fines that have exacerbated poverty and recidivism in New York.”
“Poverty is not a crime,” said Senator Brad Hoylman. “Yet, in 2017, 161 New Yorkers were incarcerated for nonpayment of court fees. That is unconscionable. Justice should not be tied to wealth. I’m proud to stand with my colleagues in the legislature and the No Price on Justice Coalition in supporting Senator Salazar’s End Predatory Court Fees Act, to stop our judicial system from having de facto debtors’ prisons.”
“I’m proud to cosponsor the End Predatory Court Fees Act,” said Assemblymember Harvey Epstein. “These fees are another way that racism and economic discrimination are baked into our justice system, trapping our Black and Brown and poor neighbors in a cycle of poverty and incarceration. The extreme consequences of these bad policies played out tragically in the police murder of Daunte Wright earlier this week. My thanks to the advocates who are pushing for what’s right; this legislation is long overdue and we must pass it immediately.”
“While wealthy individuals have always had the ability to pay their way out of punishment, for New Yorkers living paycheck to paycheck, a speeding ticket or court fee could mean the difference between paying their rent that month or facing eviction,” said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal. “When cities and localities seek to generate additional revenue through increased fines and court fees, it continues a decades-long war on poverty, blocking low-income people from ever getting a leg up and oftentimes, resulting in a person who is unable to pay being criminalized. We must pass legislation sponsored by Assemblymember Niou and Senator Salazar to enable courts to consider one’s ability to pay and end predatory fees and surcharges.”
“I’m proud to cosponsor the End Predatory Court Fees Act,” said Senator Robert Jackson. “These fees are another way that racism and economic discrimination are baked into our justice system, trapping our Black and Brown and poor neighbors in a cycle of poverty and incarceration. The extreme consequences of these bad policies played out tragically in the police murder of Daunte Wright earlier this week, who had a warrant for his arrest because of an unpaid cannabis fine that included these kinds of fees. My thanks to the advocates who are pushing for what’s right; this legislation is long overdue and we must pass it immediately.”
“The time for change is now,” said Senator Kevin Parker. “We can no longer continue to allow our criminal justice system to criminalize poverty. As a co- sponsor of this legislation, I stand in solidarity with my colleagues and advocates to call for the passage of The End Predatory Court Fees Act which will work to eliminate all court, parole and probation fees, end mandatory minimum fines, and ban debtors’ prison in New York.”
“New York State’s reliance on predatory court fines and fees for revenue criminalizes poverty and extracts money from people who cannot afford it, creating a cycle of policing-for-profit and endangering lives,” said Jacqueline Gosdigian, Senior Policy Counsel, Brooklyn Defender Services. “Court fines and fees are an economic trap on New York’s Black and brown communities, forcing people to choose between necessities and paying off debt with the threat of arrest and incarceration hanging over people’s heads. We call on the New York State legislature to urgently pass the End Predatory Court Fees Act this session to end this unjust practice.”
“Using fines and fees to generate revenue has racist impacts that criminalize poverty and allow our government to remain unaccountable,” said Katie Adamides, New York State Director for the Fines and Fees Justice Center. “The End Predatory Court Fees Act is long overdue.”
About the No Price on Justice Campaign
No Price on Justice is a coalition of economic and racial justice organizations, grassroots groups, and impacted people working to end New York’s predatory court fines and fees. Our mission is to end legal system fees and find more equitable ways to fund our government. Members of the No Price on Justice coalition include: Brooklyn Defender Services, Center for Community Alternatives, Citizen Action, Color of Change, Community Service Society, Fiscal Policy Institute, Fines and Fees Justice Center, Legal Aid Society, New York Civil Liberties Union, New York Communities for Change, and a dozen other organizations.