Fines and fees hurt every Floridian.
They make our communities less safe, they perpetuate and exacerbate poverty, and they extract millions of dollars from the most vulnerable among us, particularly communities of color.
Here’s the Problem:
Over the past three decades, Florida has created more than 20 new types of fines and fees and enacted 50 new fines and fees statutes, marking what might be the largest increase in court costs nationwide. And Florida funds its courts almost entirely from fines and fees. Florida needs to stop treating courts as revenue centers and to fully and fairly fund the courts through general revenue.
Not only is Florida extracting millions of dollars from its low income communities, it’s a leader in poverty traps. More than 1.2 million Floridians have had their driver’s license suspended simply because they cannot afford to pay a fine—in Miami-Dade County, more than one in five drivers have their license suspended for nonpayment. Driver’s license suspension for nonpayment of fines and fees is cruel and counterproductive. Many Floridians need to drive to get to work, take their children to school or a family member to the doctor. As a result, many people are forced to drive even when their license is suspended. And even attempts to address the problem cost money—in Miami-Dade County, motorists who are arrested for this offense can be diverted into the Drive Legal Program, but it requires a $175 enrollment fee. Instead of focusing our limited resources on reckless drivers who threaten public safety, we have criminalized poverty. Florida needs to stop suspending driver’s licenses for unpaid fines and fees.
Florida also charges fines and fees to youth who are subjected to the justice system, imposing enormous burdens on children and families – even though the expected collections rate for juvenile fines and fees can be as low as 9%. Florida needs to abolish juvenile fines and fees.
Finally, Florida charges fees to defendants who participate in diversion programs. For instance, Florida’s Misdemeanor Pretrial Diversion Program can cost $360-720 depending on the length of the program, plus a $50 fee to cover the cost of prosecution, plus hundreds of dollars in court costs, plus any additional fees for drug or alcohol treatment programs, drug tests, anger management classes, and so on. Diversion programs are an important way to reduce unnecessary incarceration, but access to these programs should not depend on a defendant’s ability to pay for them. Florida should offer diversion programs free of charge.
The Fines and Fees Justice Center’s Florida state campaign is the first sustained effort to reform harmful fines and fees practices statewide.
Our goal is to abolish fees in the justice system and to ensure that fines are equitably imposed and enforced.
FFJC is building a broad-based reform coalition including community organizations, advocacy groups, religious leaders, judges, defenders, prosecutors, law enforcement, and business community leaders. At the same time, we are documenting practices and gathering data about how fines and fees are imposed and enforced in Florida to better inform our campaign’s strategy.
We have also joined the Florida Campaign for Criminal Justice Reform, a bipartisan coalition working to combat the over-criminalization of Floridians. Together, our coalitions will work to end driver’s license suspensions for unpaid fines and fees in Florida. Florida Senator Jeff Brandes (R-24) has introduced legislation to abolish license suspension for nonpayment in the last two legislative sessions, and he has pledged to do so again in the next session. We will support his bill, and activate our coalition to ensure that it passes.
If you want to get involved with our campaign or simply learn more about it, please contact our Florida Campaign Director, Ashley Thomas, at email@example.com.
We expect to open an office in central Florida in early 2019.