San Francisco Fines & Fees Task Force: Initial Findings and Recommendations

In late 2016, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors directed the Office of the Treasurer and Tax Collector to create a Fines and Fees Task Force (staffed by the Treasurer’s Financial Justice Project) to study the impact of fines and fees on San Franciscans & propose relevant reforms. About six months later, the Task Force published this initial report in order to provide an overview of fines and fees in San Francisco as well as an array of reform recommendations.

You can read the full report here.

Key Findings
  • San Francisco County has led the state in many aspects of fines and fees reform: it was the first county to not charge fees to parents whose children were incarcerated in juvenile hall, and the San Francisco Superior Court was the first to stop suspending driver’s licenses when people were unable to pay traffic court fines.
  • “Interest [in fines and fees reform] is high, but some City and County department staff are concerned about the potential loss of revenue from reforms to fines or fees, or a lack of administrative resources to develop and enact effective reforms.”
  • In many cases, the Task Force had difficulty obtaining data about fines and fees from relevant city and county agencies due to antiquated systems or lack of budget staff.
  • San Francisco should pilot day fines (means-adjusted fines).
  • The state of California should stop suspending driver’s licenses for nonpayment of court debt and prevent courts from charging fees just to get into court.
  • “Ensure that “Quality of Life” citations do not punish people for being poor”—police can issue written warnings instead of tickets, and when tickets are issued, defendants should have opportunities to resolve their debt by receiving social services or other alternatives.
  • “An analysis of San Francisco’s fines, fees, tickets and financial penalties should be conducted through the City and County budget process… not[ing] any fee or fine where 1) Revenue collected does not justify the cost of collection and enforcement 2) Delinquent revenue is greater than or equal to revenue collected 3) Collection and enforcement has a disparate impact on low-income communities or communities of color.”
  • Where possible, fines and fees should be assessed based on the defendant’s ability to pay, and courts should ensure that consequences do not “place an inequitable burden on low-income San Franciscans.” The Financial Justice Project should help county institutions develop efficient ability to pay processes.
  • Individuals should be able to verify inability to pay by self-reporting their income and/or showing their EBT/public benefit card. Institutions can also implement shared data agreements between departments to verify income.

The city of San Francisco abolished all locally-imposed criminal justice administrative fees in June of 2018.

San Francisco Financial Justice Project, San Francisco Office of the Treasurer