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Paid in Full: A Plan to End Money Injustice in New Orleans

The Vera Institute’s “Paid in Full” report outlines a path towards fines and fees reform, summarizing relevant reform litigation and detailing specific steps that the city of New Orleans can take to reduce the harms of pre-trial and conviction fees. In particular, the report explains that charging “user fees” does not offset the enormous costs imposed by incarcerating people who cannot afford to pay fees or bail, and that these practices are extremely burdensome for New Orleans’ marginalized communities.

You can read the full text of the report here.

“The court’s gotta eat.” –one judge’s justification for imposing a discretionary conviction fee.

Highlights
  • In 2017, 69% of conviction fees paid to New Orleans courts were paid by black families. $1.9 million in conviction fees were paid overall.
  • 25% of New Orleans Criminal District Court revenue comes from bail bond and conviction fees.
  • Cain v. City of New Orleans prohibits judges from using incarceration to coerce payment of conviction fees.
  • Louisiana legislature has worked to maintain the “user-funded” court system for decade, instituting bond fee increases and disregarding judges’ calls for increased state or county level court funds
  • In 2017, city and municipal court judges in New Orleans agreed to allocate fee revenue to the general fund instead of the courts, eliminating a direct conflict of interest but retaining the underlying perverse incentive.
Recommendations
  • Eliminate fines and fees imposed at conviction, expunge existing conviction fees, and recall outstanding warrants issued for failure to pay or appear at a hearing.
  • Fully fund Louisiana courts, public defenders, and district attorneys through general revenue, not “user fees” – it would cost an estimated $2.8 million annually to replace all “user fees” with tax dollars. Costs would be offset by releasing a far greater number of defendants pretrial.
  • The Mayor and City Council should take the lead in implementing fines and fees reforms (i.e., funding the courts).
  • Any should be available free of charge to defendant.

 

Vera Institute for Justice, Jon Wool, Alison Shih, Melody Chang
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