FFJC Policy Recommendations
The escalating public health and economic crisis wrought by COVID-19 is unlike anything in modern U.S. history. The worst harms of this crisis are falling heavily and disproportionately on the most vulnerable people in our country, especially people living paycheck-to-paycheck and people in the criminal justice system.
A recession is underway. People are losing their jobs and most low-paying jobs cannot be done remotely. Families are unable to pay their rent, buy food, or afford medical care — and they need their cars to access these basic necessities while social-distancing. In the midst of this crisis, paying fines and fees or accumulating additional court debt should be the last thing a family worries about.
People who are incarcerated are particularly vulnerable to the virus. The conditions in jails and prisons, coupled with the age and health of the incarcerated population, make the virus extremely dangerous. In response to the crisis, many jurisdictions have terminated in-person visitation between incarcerated people and their friends and families, yet continue to charge exorbitant rates for phone calls, emails and other vital forms of communication.
During the last recession, state and local governments dramatically increased the number and amount of fines and fees imposed on people for minor traffic and municipal code violations, misdemeanors and felonies in order to fill budget gaps. That regressive system of taxation continues to cause enormous harm in economically vulnerable communities, and particularly communities of color. Those communities suffered most in the last recession and will suffer again in this one. They cannot bear this unfair burden. State and local governments and courts should work to eliminate fees, make fines fair and proportionate, and never use fines and fees to balance their budgets.
In light of this ongoing national emergency, state and local governments and courts should make immediate changes to their criminal, traffic and municipal ordinance fines and fees policies to (1) increase public safety and health, (2) ensure that fines and fees are not a barrier to people’s basic needs throughout this emergency, and (3) promote the resiliency of our communities.
Below are evidence-based policies that jurisdictions around the country should take to help stem this public health and economic crisis.
Policy Recommendations For Our Communities:
- State and local jurisdictions should discharge all outstanding fines, fees and court debt. Where full discharge is not yet feasible, government and courts should implement immediately the following alternatives:
- 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.
- Stop sending delinquent cases to private collection companies, and direct private collection companies and probation and parole officers to stop all collection efforts.
- Stop imposing penalties for late or missed payments of fines, fees and court debt.
- Suspend interest on unpaid fines, fees and court debt.
- Immediately cease issuing and enforcing warrants for unpaid fines and fees or for failure to appear at a hearing addressing unpaid fines and fees.
- State and local jurisdictions should stop 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.
- Law enforcement officers should release individuals with a warning who are driving on a suspended license. Alternatively, law enforcement should cite and release any person apprehended for driving on a suspended driver’s license, when the underlying suspension is based on unpaid fines and fees or not appearing in court. Under no circumstances should these individuals be arrested and jailed.
- 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.
- Judges should waive or reduce any fines they impose, recognizing people’s precarious financial circumstances.
- Jurisdictions should proactively and widely communicate any changes made in their fines and fees policies.
Policy Recommendations For People in the Criminal Legal System:
- Co-pays for medical visits of people in custody should be waived.
- Incarcerated people should be provided free liquid soap, hand sanitizer, and other disinfecting products.
- People who are incarcerated and their families and loved ones should be provided with free, easily accessible phone and email communication.
- Release any individuals incarcerated for outstanding fines and fees, and stop jailing or detaining individuals for unpaid fines and fees.
- Probation and parole should not be extended or revoked, nor sanctions imposed, for unpaid fines and fees or other technical violations.
COVID-19 Fines and Fees Policy Tracker
- Stimulus Bill: Prohibits state or local governments from intercepting the $1,200 recovery checks and using them to pay for outstanding fines and fees.
- California’s state taxing authority (the Franchise Tax Board) has suspended collection of all criminal justice debt and most other government-owed debts via wage garnishments, bank levies, and tax intercepts.
- Moreno Valley: City officials announce they are suspending penalties and interest for late payment of utility bills, parking citations, business license fees and library fines, for March 18 through April 15.
- San Francisco: The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has announced several reforms.
- Suspend new late penalties on citations.
- Extend deadlines for submitting citation protests.
- No longer forward additional delinquent citations to the Department of Motor Vehicles or Special Collections.
- Parking – Enforcement will be temporarily suspended for the following:
- 72-hour parking limit and towing.
- Residential Permit Parking (RPP) permits.
- Commuter shuttles.
- Peak-hour towaway zones.
- Stop towing for unpaid citations.
- California Child Support Services is ending bank levy and driver’s license automated enforcement actions.
Colorado: The governor issued an order directing DPS to identify funding allocated in the Fiscal Year 2019-2020 to be utilized for the purposes of suspending the $17.00 a day subsistence payments required from community corrections clients.
- Four state circuit courts have issued Administrative Orders to reduce driver’s license suspensions for unpaid fines and fees.
- The 17th Circuit Court (Broward County) issued an Administrative Order stating that “1) All compliance deadlines are tolled pending further order of the court; (2) The Clerk of Court shall not issue a D-6 license suspension or default any defendant on any civil traffic infraction; and (3)The Clerk of Court shall not default or issue a D-6 license suspension on any defendant who is currently on a payment plan until further order of the court.”
- The 15th Circuit Court (Palm Beach County) issued an Administrative Order stating that “Effective immediately, the Clerk and Comptroller’s Office shall not issue a D-6 license suspension or default any defendant on any civil or criminal traffic violation until further order of the Court. If your fines, costs, school completion certificates, community service hours, and/or proof of compliance was or becomes due during the period of the Court’s closure due to COVID-19 , your due date has not changed. You may make your payments to the Clerk either on-line or telephonically.”
- The 10th Circuit Court (Hardee, Highlands, and Polk Counties) issued an Administrative Order stating that “1. The Clerks of the Court for Hardee, Highlands, and Polk Counties, Florida (“Clerks”), are hereby authorized to grant one request for an extension of time for the payment of fines and/or costs imposed by the county courts in county criminal cases for a period of thirty (30) days from the due date imposed by the Court at the time of sentencing. 2. With regard to the payment of fines and/or costs imposed for non-criminal traffic violations, the Clerks may grant one-time extensions for a period of sixty (60) days. Special Limited Exception: Effective upon signing, and until close of business on April 20, 2020, unless amended by subsequent order, the Clerks may, without request, extend the time for the payment of fines and/or costs imposed in county criminal cases for a period of sixty (60) days and for non-criminal traffic violations for a period of one hundred-twenty (120) days.”
- The 2nd Circuit Court (Franklin, Gadsden, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty, and Wakulla Counties) issued an Administrative Order authorizing Clerks of Court to postpone driver’s license suspensions in civil traffic cases.
- Macon County: The Macon County Circuit Court is extending the deadline for 90 days on fines, fees, costs and restitution due dates falling between March 20 and April 20. The extension will cover court-imposed charges and penalties due in traffic, driving under the influence, criminal felony, criminal misdemeanor and juvenile delinquency cases.
Idaho: Any court hearings to address unpaid fines and fees are continued for 60 days (i.e. rescheduled 60 days from when they were originally scheduled).
- Chicago has announced several reforms.
- Delay referral of parking, red light, speed camera tickets to collection firms until after April 30, 2020.
- No defaults of payment plans for until after April 30, 2020 and no new interest accumulated on current compliance plans including city tickets, utility bills, parking and red-light citations, booting and other non-public safety related violations.
- Delay driver’s license suspensions until after April 30, 2020.
- Through at least April 30, the city will suspend booting, late fees and defaults on payment plans for all city debts, and is suspending city debt checks for ride-share and taxi drivers.
- Through at least April 30, the city will be limiting ticketing, towing and impounding solely to what are public safety-related issues.
- Extend utility bill due dates and referral to collection firms until after April 30, 2020.
- River Forest (Cook County): The Village Board passed an executive order suspending fines for late payments and non-payments for water service and refuse service. The order also extends the due date for ambulance bills from 30 days to 60 days after being issued and suspends the collection of ambulance bills and judgments on ordinance violations, including red light camera fees.
Kentucky: Any court hearings to address unpaid fines and fees are continued for 60 days (i.e. rescheduled 60 days from when they were originally scheduled).
Louisiana: 12th Judicial District Court has suspended the requirement to make scheduled payments of fines, fees and court costs until further notice. Requirements to attend substance abuse classes, domestic violence classes, life skill classes, anger management classes, driver improvement classes and MADD classes are also suspended until further notice.
- Maine’s court system is vacating warrants for unpaid fines, restitution, court-appointed counsel fees, failure to appear for unpaid fine hearings, and other failure to appear warrants.
- Courts extended the dates on which those who owe fines, fees, restitution and attorney fee reimbursements in criminal cases to May 4 or to another ordered due date in May, whichever is later.
- Baltimore: State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced that her office will stop prosecuting low level offenses, including minor traffic offenses.
Michigan: The governor signed an executive order allowing local officials more flexibility in releasing vulnerable populations who do not pose a threat to public safety, including people who are aging or have chronic conditions, pregnant women or people nearing their release date, or anyone in jail for failure to appeal, failure to pay or for a traffic violation.
- Minnesota’s court system will stop sending out late penalty notices and assessing the late penalties for all citations; halt the automated process by which a person’s license is suspended for failure to appear; and stop referring past-due payment cases to the Department of Revenue for collections.
- Minnesota prison officials waived co-pays charged to people for medical visits and waived fees for personal hygiene supplies.
New Jersey: The New Jersey Supreme Court ordered the release of any person currently serving a county jail sentence as a condition of probation, or as a result of a municipal court conviction.
- New York (outside of NYC): Some parts of the state have temporarily stopped processing new driver’s license suspensions and associated fees for failure to pay traffic tickets or for failure to appear at a traffic court hearing.
- Buffalo is suspending late fees and interest on parking, traffic and other city accounts (e.g. utilities).
- Brooklyn has adjourned all non-essential court dates (including payment dates) for either 60 or 90 days; no warrants or civil judgments will be issued for unpaid court debt in the meantime. District Attorney Eric Gonzalez also announced he won’t prosecute low level crimes.
- Osage County has stopped enforcement of cost warrants (or warrants in non-violent cases).
- In Pittsburg County, bench warrants previously issued by Pittsburg County District Court for failure to appear on a cost warrant are stayed and held in abeyance for 30 days or until further order of the court.
- Cleveland County is releasing on personal recognizance bonds all people arrested or detained for all cost warrants (issued for failure to pay court costs) and warrants for failure to appear for cost dockets.
- In Multnomah County, parole and probation officers will continue to check in with individuals under supervision and respond to public safety concerns. Individuals who violate their probation terms — but don’t commit a new crime — will not be sanctioned to jail unless there is a public safety risk.
- The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections is providing incarcerated people five free phone calls per week as well as five free emails per week. Both visitors and incarcerated people can participate in a new video call program. The Department is also waiving all co-pays for incarcerated people for any complaints of “flu-like symptoms” including fever, cough and shortness of breath.
- The Philadelphia Police Department is delaying arrests and/or not detaining people for a range of low-level offenses. They are also temporarily stopping enforcement of bench warrants against individuals who fail to show up for court.
- Reading announced several fines and fees reforms:
- Suspend new late penalties on citations.
- Extend deadlines for submitting citation protests.
- Grace period of fine payment from March 18-31.
- No barnacles or boots will be placed on cars from March 18-31.
- Discontinued the issuance of new parking tickets.
- Suspension of parking meter enforcement.
- Will allow residents to park their cars free of charge 24/7 for next 2 weeks.