Court debt traps thousands of New Mexicans in the justice system.
Across New Mexico, courts impose fines as a punishment for minor traffic and municipal code violations, misdemeanors and felonies. Fees (or surcharges) are additional costs attached to every point of the criminal justice system. They exist solely to raise money for government services and the justice system.
Fines and fees have devastating, lifelong consequences. If you’re not able to pay your fines and fees costs, you risk piling on more fees, losing your driver’s license and, in many cases, being arrested and jailed. Thousands of New Mexicans are trapped in the justice system just because they cannot afford to pay fines and fees.
The result is an endless cycle of debt and poverty — where you can lose your job, your home, and even the ability to care for your children. Fines and fees have created a two-tier justice system where wealthy people walk away unharmed and those without expendable income – particularly people of color – are severely punished.
How do we end New Mexico’s reliance on fines and fees?
New Mexico’s state and local budgets shouldn’t rely on fines and fees for revenue. Police shouldn’t be focused on raising money. Instead, New Mexico’s state and local governments should:
- End debt-based driver’s license suspensions.
- End state and municipal fees on convictions.
- End garnishment of commissary accounts of incarcerated people to collect fees.
- End supervision fees for pretrial and probation.
- End diversion fees for programs like drug and alcohol treatment.
- End corrections fees for services like phone calls, voicemail, money transfers, and bail payments.
- End bench warrant fees for missed court appointments and missed payments.
COVID-19 is escalating the dangers of fines and fees in New Mexico.
New Mexico needs immediate fines and fees reform in response to the COVID-19 crisis, which disproportionately affects people living paycheck-to-paycheck and people involved in the criminal legal system. New Mexico must respond to COVID-19’s impact on fines and fees by immediately changing its criminal, traffic, and municipal ordinance fines and fees policies.
Immediate Recommendations in response to COVID-19
- Stop suspending driver’s licenses for unpaid fines or fees, or for not appearing in court; reinstate licenses suspended for those reasons.
- Release individuals with a warning who are driving on a suspended license. Under no circumstances should these individuals be arrested, jailed, or prosecuted.
- Stop issuing bench warrants and vacate existing warrants for unpaid fines, fees, or failure to appear for court debt.
- End all collection of fines, fees, and court debt.
- Stop imposing penalties for late or missed payments of fines, fees, and court debt.
- Stop issuing parking tickets and municipal code violations.
Immediate Recommendations For People in the Criminal Legal System
- Waive any fees associated with health care in prisons and jails.
- Provide free liquid soap, hand sanitizer, and other disinfecting products.
- Provide free, easily accessible communication, including phone calls and emails.
- Stop jailing or detaining individuals for unpaid fines and fees and release those already detained.
- Stop extending or revoking probation and parole for unpaid fines and fees or other technical violations.
Read FFJC’s national policy recommendations for COVID-19 here.
Join the fight to end unjust fines and fees.
The Fines and Fees Justice Center’s (FFJC) New Mexico state campaign is the state’s first sustained effort to reform harmful fines and fees. FFJC New Mexico is building broad-based coalitions from across the political spectrum including people who have experienced the criminal justice system, grassroots organizations, judges, public defenders, prosecutors, legislators, law enforcement, and faith-based and advocacy organizations. To learn more about FFJC’s New Mexico work, contact Monica Ault, New Mexico State Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org.