Press Release: National Effort to Reform Local Fines & Fees Announces New City and County Champions

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

Today, six jurisdictions were announced as new members of Cities and Counties for Fine & Fee Justice, a leadership network pursuing innovative local solutions to reform fines and fees. The selected leaders represent jurisdictions that are rethinking their reliance on fines and fees revenue and committed to implementing reforms that support public safety and economic prosperity for all of their residents. These participating cities and counties are:

  • Chatham County, Georgia
  • Jefferson County, Alabama
  • Miami-Dade County, Florida
  • Washtenaw County, Michigan
  • City of Wilmington, Delaware
  • Wyandotte County/City of Kansas City, Kansas

Fines and fees have devastated the lives of millions of Americans, trapping many in a cycle of poverty and punishment. Across the country, city and county leaders are advancing bold reforms to ensure their fines and fees do not place a disproportionate burden on residents living on low incomes and people of color.  Recognizing the harms of fines and fees in their communities, many cities and counties have recently reformed their fines and fees policies to ensure they do not burden vulnerable communities.

Cities and Counties for Fine & Fee Justice (CCFFJ) is led by the Fines and Fees Justice Center and the City and County of San Francisco’s Financial Justice Project. Results for America will be supporting the leadership team in the work with cities and counties. The jurisdictions participating in the second cohort will receive customized technical and strategic assistance, including access to policy, research, communications and data expertise on fines and fees policies. Each jurisdiction has committed to working directly with impacted community members to enact specific reforms, and they will each receive a small grant to help them achieve their goals.

“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,” said Priya Sarathy Jones, Director of Campaigns & Policy at the Fines and Fees Justice Center, which recently published a series of local policy guides for cities and counties interested in reform. “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.”

“In San Francisco, we’ve learned through our reforms that we can hold people accountable without putting them in financial distress,” said San Francisco Treasurer José Cisneros, whose office is home to the San Francisco Financial Justice Project. Under their leadership, the City and County has made fines more fair and eliminated numerous “high pain low gain” fees.

“We can balance our budgets in common sense ways that are not on the backs of the least fortunate people in our communities,” added Cisneros.

The new CCFFJ  jurisdictions will pursue reforms that include eliminating criminal justice fees — the surcharges, penalties, and interest that drive up debt and make even a traffic ticket unaffordable for people living paycheck-to-paycheck. They will also address the high costs of incarceration — such as the exorbitant fees for phone calls, medical care, and commissary purchases, paid by people who are incarcerated and their families. Jurisdictions will also work toward right-sizing fines that exceed people’s ability to pay, such as ticketing, towing, and booting.

The members of CCFFJ’s first cohort enacted reforms to eliminate in-custody fees and municipal fees, to forgive outstanding debt, to end debt-based driver’s license suspensions, to implement restitution funds, to eliminate the costs of phone calls and dramatically lower the cost of commissary items in jails, and to provide fine and fee waivers and reductions for people with low incomes.

Learn more about Cities and Counties for Fine and Fee Justice.

Learn more about the fine and fee reforms enacted and ongoing from CCFFJ’s 2020-21 members.