Burgeoning Movement for Fines & Fees Reform Gets $5 Million Boost from MacKenzie Scott
The Fines and Fees Justice Center (FFJC) announced today a $5 million donation from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott that will support its efforts to eliminate fees in the justice system, ensure that fines are equitably imposed and enforced, and end harmful collection practices.
As the only national organization singularly dedicated to fines and fees reform, FFJC works with directly impacted people, community-based organizations, policymakers, and justice system actors from across the political spectrum. FFJC leads national campaigns, as well as state campaigns in Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, and New York.
“Fines and fees are a major driver of economic inequality, mass criminalization and racial injustice,” said Joanna Weiss, co-director of the Fines and Fees Justice Center. “We are grateful to Ms. Scott for recognizing the enormity of this problem, and investing in solutions.”
Starting in the 1980s, state and local governments increasingly turned to police, prosecutors and judges to generate revenue. People who can’t afford fines and fees — often stemming from just a minor traffic ticket — are subjected to punishments that trap them in a cycle of poverty that includes incarceration, prolonged or indefinite supervision, driver’s license suspension, and additional fees. Millions of people collectively owe at least $26 billion in outstanding fines and fees to state governments alone. Billions more are owed at the local level.
Support for fines and fees reform is rapidly growing among state and local policymakers from both sides of the aisle — and among their constituents. Since 2017, the governors of 22 states — red, blue, and purple — have signed legislative reforms to curb debt-based driving restrictions, including 10 states last year alone. Over a dozen states have also passed new laws since 2017 to discharge uncollectable court debt and to eliminate some of the many exorbitant fees imposed on people in the justice system.
“We’re grateful that Ms. Scott shares our vision of ending fines and fees policies that criminalize poverty, exacerbate racial disparities, and undermine economic prosperity,” said FFJC co-director Lisa Foster. “Ms. Scott’s donation underscores the tremendous need for investment to solve this problem that’s deeply entrenched virtually everywhere in the country.”