San Francisco’s Financial Justice Project: Reducing the burden of fines and fees on San Franciscans with low incomes


$32 million in criminal justice system debts were waived or eliminated.

San Francisco’s cost of living has drastically risen over the past decade, and 47 percent of San Franciscans are financially insecure. To address harmful fines and fees practices, San Francisco launched the Financial Justice Project (FJP) in October 2016. In close collaboration with departments across local governments and community organizations, FJP worked with agencies levying harmful fines and fees to find alternative solutions. Solutions generally fell into three categories: basing fines or fees on ability to pay, eliminating fines and fees, and identifying an alternative method to achieving policy goals or offering non-monetary alternatives to payment. Although met with some challenges such as collecting accurate data on fines and fees, fears of revenue lost from agency leaders, and challenging the perception of punishment, FJP has found success and serves as a model for other jurisdictions. This report outlines their processes and major accomplishments.

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Key Findings: 

  • Black residents make up less than six percent of San Francisco’s population but made up 45 percent of people arrested for failure to appear or failure to pay traffic court warrants.
  • In April 2019, San Francisco ended driver’s license suspensions for failure to appear in court and lifted driver’s license holds for 88,000 people. Ending license suspensions resulted in a nine percent increase in collections per ticket. 
  • In January 2020, money bail was eliminated.
  • In September 2020, California eliminated and forgave debt from 23 criminal administrative fees.
  • Jail phone calls were made free, and jail commissary markups ended, saving incarcerated people and their families $1.7 million annually.
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