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Press Release: On Tax Day, Legislators & Advocates Rally to End Predatory Fines & Fees

After Passing New Taxes on the Wealthy, Policymakers Seek to Undo Harms of Extracting Revenue Through Police & Courts 

This morning, elected officials, advocates, and people impacted by New York’s predatory court fines and fees gathered outside the IRS building in Harlem to demand an end to the criminalization of poverty and passage of the End Predatory Court Fees Act.

Watch the video recording here. Photos available upon request.

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. 

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 Assemblymember Harvey Epstein and Senator Brad Hoylman. 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.

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. 

Since the 1980s, New York has increasingly turned to police, prosecutors and judges to generate revenue.  New York has dramatically increased the number and amount of fines and fees imposed on people for everything from minor traffic and municipal code violations to misdemeanors and felonies — and used draconian tactics to collect them.

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.

“It is unconscionable that New York uses the court system as a backdoor, regressive tax on those least able to afford it,” said Peggy Herrera, community leader with Center for Community Alternatives. “My family is currently under the strain of hundreds of dollars in court fees resulting from the criminalization of my teenage son. Keeping up with the mounting court debt while trying to get my son back on his feet feels like an impossible task. I have gone into credit card debt. I work overtime and take on extra jobs when I can. My recent stimulus check from the federal government went straight to the New York court system. Every time I pay these bills, I can feel myself breathe a little easier. But it shouldn’t have to be this way. That is why this Tax Day we are calling on New York State to pass the End Predatory Court Fees Act.”

“New York’s historic new law to tax millionaires is a critical step forward in fighting decades of austerity budgets that have contributed to disinvestment in Black and brown communities,” said Senator Julia Salazar, lead sponsor of the End Predatory Court Fees Act. “But while we fight to ensure the wealthy pay their fair share, we must also end the war on the poor. On today’s Tax Day, we must commit to ending New York’s predatory fines and fees.”

“Predatory court fees trap too many New Yorkers in a cycle of debt and poverty, and that devastating impact is concentrated in Black and brown communities,” said Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou, lead sponsor of the End Predatory Court Fees Act. “This is a system designed to criminalize poverty. Marginalized New Yorkers who can’t pay the arbitrary fees baked into nearly every step of our state’s legal process deserve a justice system that doesn’t pick their pockets and jeopardize their freedom. We must take the profit motive out of the justice system by passing the End Predatory Court Fees Act immediately.” 

“New York’s regressive fines and fees are trapping residents in a vicious cycle of poverty and punishment,” said Antonya Jeffrey, New York Deputy Director at the Fines and Fees Justice Center. “The End Predatory Court Fees Act is an urgently-needed step toward ending New York’s dangerous reliance on this toxic revenue source.”

“With this year’s budget, New York has begun to call on New York’s wealthiest to pay their fair share through progressive taxation,” said Marvin Mayfield, Lead Organizer at Center for Community Alternatives. “Now, it is time to undo the harm of New York’s regressive fines and fees that trap millions of residents in a vicious cycle of debt and criminalization.” 

“Time is running out and We need to find every way possible to make sure New Yorkers aren’t penalized with unfair court fees,” said Assembly Member Harvey Epstein. It’s time to pass The End Predatory Court Fees Act. Poverty is not a crime. Presenting New Yorkers with court and probation fees they can’t pay is only criminalizing low income people and communities of color. We need to decarcerate!” 

”Court fees and fines are a regressive tax, exploiting people who can least afford them and contributing to an endless cycle of debt and criminalization,” said Jacqueline Gosdigian, Senior Policy Counsel with Brooklyn Defender Services. “As a public defender, by definition, I represent people who cannot afford an attorney who rely on free legal services to protect their constitutional rights to representation. For the state to, in turn, rely on the people we represent as a source of revenue is morally wrong — and fiscally irresponsible. New York must no longer rely on police, prosecutors, and judges to generate revenue for the state, at the expense of poor Black and Latinx communities that are targeted by harsh policing.”

Harsh policing of minor violations — driven by governments’ dependence on fines and fees money — does not lead to greater public safety.  Relying on fines and fees is also bad economic policy and a wildly regressive and inefficient way to raise revenue. New York is wasting money to chase money that doesn’t exist — a lose-lose situation for both vulnerable New Yorkers and the state’s bottom line. 

New York’s counterproductive fines and fees have trapped millions of residents in a vicious cycle of debt and criminalization. The End Predatory Court Fees Act is an urgently-needed step toward ending New York’s dangerous reliance on this toxic revenue source.  

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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.

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