New York City Council Committee on the Justice System hearing: “The Cost of Justice”

In September, FFJC Co-Director Joanna Weiss was invited to testify at a New York City Council Committee on the Justice System hearing “The Cost of Justice” about the use of fines and fees in NYC courts. Committee Chair and Councilmember Rory Lancman began the hearing by noting that in 2017 alone, 161 Queens residents were incarcerated as a result of failure to pay fines and fees.

During her testimony, Weiss advocated for the abolition of all fees imposed by NYC’s justice system, including costs associated with diversion programs. Weiss proposed that the city establish an Office for Economic Justice that would study and mitigate the adverse impacts of fines and fees that the city imposes, and proposed the use of means-adjusted fines, or “day fines” in NYC Administrative tribunals. Weiss was joined by several other advocates at the hearing, including representatives from Brooklyn Defender Services, Bronx Defenders, and the Corrections Accountability Project, who shared powerful anecdotes relating to the harms that New Yorkers suffer due to excessive fines and fees.

A full video recording of the hearing is available on our YouTube channel, and you can also read our written testimonies in full: FFJCBronx DefendersBrooklyn Defender Services. Additionally, FFJC is working to reform fines and fees practices across all of New York State, and you can learn more about our New York Campaign here. 

  • Dawit Getachew, Bronx Defenders: “A guilty plea for disorderly conduct — one of the most common dispositions across the city — carries a mandatory surcharge of $120. In 2018, Bronx Defenders’ clients have taken over 1,700 pleas to disorderly conduct, for a total of over $200,000 in mandatory court surcharges.”
  • Hemangi Pai, Brooklyn Defender Services: “People in City jails may have their minimal wages or commissary accounts garnished to pay off accumulated fines, surcharges and fees. The state prisons system may also garnish payment from an incarcerated person’s commissary account, money earned from work release programs or any source of income or money in a person’s possession.”
  • Joanna Weiss, FFJC: “In Staten Island, there is a diversion program for DUI cases, and participation costs up to $14 per day for 90 days. If you complete the program, you get no criminal record. If you can’t afford the program, you are incarcerated and have a criminal record.”
Fines and Fees Justice Center, New York City Council