POLICY

New York City’s 2020-21 budget includes a ticket blitz that’s expected to cost motorists some $42 million in the coming months.The NYPD will reassign 75 workers in its Traffic Enforcement Division to ticket-writing duties to counter the fiscal effects of the coronavirus crisis.

WHY THIS POLICY DOESN’T WORK

When governments use predatory fines and fees to raise money, the result is a disproportionate tax on those who can least afford it. Learn more about No Price on Justice, New York’s campaign to eliminate predatory fees.

POLICY

Chicago is hoping to help balance its 2021 budget  from speeding tickets and other violations, including issuing speeding tickets to drivers going 6 miles per hour over the posted limit instead of the current 11.

WHY THIS POLICY DOESN’T WORK

In Chicago, a single ticket can cause an inescapable downward spiral for a low-income person. Read more about the disproportionate amount of debt that burdens Chicago’s Black communities.

POLICY

Georgia signed a bill into law that increases  fines and fees  to  add jail officers and provide additional funding for  the police retirement fund.

WHY THIS POLICY DOESN’T WORK

When law enforcement is funded through the imposition of fines and fees, policing practices become less focused on ensuring public safety and more focused on raising revenue — endangering low-income people and people of color. Read this national study which shows how Black and Hispanic arrests and property seizures increase with local deficits when institutions allow officials to more easily retain revenues from forfeited property.

POLICY

Orange County officials tripled the fee charged to most people whose cars are impounded by police for unpaid fines and fees.

WHY THIS POLICY DOESN’T WORK

Towing cars to coerce payment is counterproductive. If people can’t afford to pay a parking ticket, how can they possibly afford a $144 impound fee? Without a car, people can’t get  to work to earn money to pay the fine or fee. 

Read more about the impact of towing for nonpayment of fines and fees and recommendations to improve the system.

POLICY

Nevada County: The Board of Supervisors has created new code violations  to generate additional revenue.

WHY THIS POLICY DOESN’T WORK

Increasingly,  fines and penalties are being used to fill budget shortfalls, spiraling into huge debts, which can result in incarceration for those unable to pay. Learn more about the shift to this system of municipal fines, the effects on poor communities and communities of color, and recommendations for reform, such as removing low-level crime from municipal codes.

POLICY

Montgomery adopted a policy that allows judges of the Court of Common Pleas to exercise arbitrary discretion to impose duplicative costs resulting in the assessment of various costs and fees for each individual charge, rather than once per case as the law allows.

WHY THIS POLICY DOESN’T WORK

Read New York’s Ferguson Problem for more on how fees create a cycle of punishment and poverty, disproportionately impacting communities of color who are overrepresented in traffic stops, arrests, and conviction rates.

POLICY

The Gates Mills Village Council passed an ordinance increasing the fines for all waive-able traffic offenses, including speeding, to cover administrative costs.

WHY THIS POLICY DOESN’T WORK

Read about the passage of a motion to eliminate criminal system administrative fees as a part of the county’s efforts to reduce the detrimental impacts of fines and fees on individuals in Los Angeles.

POLICY

The Maryland legislature introduced a bill requiring the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) to suspend the driver’s license and registration of all vehicles in a person’s name if they fail to pay a money judgement from a motor vehicle insurer.

WHY THIS POLICY DOESN’T WORK

Read the American Legislative Exchange Council’s resolution encouraging state legislators to limit driver’s license suspension policies to conduct that involves dangerous driving. Join FFJC’s Free to Drive campaign to debt based driver’s license suspensions.

HALL OF FAME

In response the COVID-19 crisis, many jurisdictions have taken positive, first steps to reduce the harms of fines and fees, including discharging outstanding debts, repealing criminal legal fees and ending the cruel practice of suspending driver’s licenses on the basis of unpaid debt. These fines and fees reforms have and will continue to benefit millions of people around the nation — especially in low-income communities and communities of color.

Here are some of the most significant state and local reforms that have been enacted since the beginning of COVID-19 pandemic:

POLICY

California discharged and ended the collection of all outstanding juvenile fees and repealed 23 criminal legal system fees including those for administering probation and mandatory supervision, processing arrests and citations, home detention programs, electronic monitoring programs, work furlough programs, and work release programs.

WHY IT WORKS

Read this report on Fines and Monetary Sanctions by FFJC Advisory Board Member Alexes Harris on how criminal legal system fees worsen social inequality, cause undue hardship and prolong system involvement.

POLICY

In an emergency session to address the COVID-19 crisis, Oregon passed a bill to end driver’s license suspensions for unpaid fines and fees.

WHY IT WORKS

Read more about how debt-related driver’s license suspensions make everyday life impossible. See all the states that have ended the practice of debt-based driver’s license suspensions.

POLICY

Michigan removed barriers to reentry by signing the nation’s most expansive Clean Slate bill into law. This bill ensures that automatic record expungement is no longer contingent on the payment of fines & fees.

WHY IT WORKS

Read more about “user fees” in the criminal justice system and how they hinder the success of individuals reentering society after incarceration.

POLICY

Seattle Municipal Court judges voted to eliminate all discretionary fines and fees imposed in criminal cases including the probation supervision fee, records check fee, work crew fee, and community service setup fee.

WHY IT WORKS

These changes are expected to benefit over 1,000 individuals per year. Read more about how monetary sanctions in Seattle affect Black and Brown residents at dramatically higher rates compared to their white residents.

POLICY

Maine vacated warrants for unpaid fines, restitution, court-appointed counsel fees, failure to appear for unpaid fine or fee hearings.

WHY IT WORKS

This policy reform gives over 12,000 Maine residents the freedom to live their lives without worrying they will be arrested or jailed because they can’t afford to pay fines and fees. Learn more about the devastating impact of debt-based arrest warrants in this short documentary about two women who were continually jailed (one over 19 times) because they couldn’t afford to pay fines and fees.

POLICY

The Dane County Board canceled all of the existing juvenile justice debt and discontinued the collection of shelter home fees and social worker supervision program fees. The county also previously eliminated fees for individuals who participate in deferred prosecution and first-offender programs.

WHY IT WORKS

The assessment of juvenile justice debt undermines the rehabilitative purpose of the juvenile system. Read more about how the practice of assessing and collecting fees from families with youth in the California juvenile justice system perpetuates racial wealth disparities, often violates California state law, and can be costly to collect.

POLICY

Governor Newsom proposed a budget packet that includes an allocation of $54.8 million over the next 5 years to backfill the loss of fine and fee revenue from ability to pay assessments for traffic and other infractions, moving the state away from its reliance on fine and fee revenue to fund its courts.

WHY IT WORKS

Fines and fees are inequitable and unreliable sources of funding. Read about how the pandemic has exposed pre-existing issues concerning the use of fine and fee revenue in North Carolina.