Subscribe Donate

Tag: criminal fees

Home | Newsroom |

PRESS RELEASE: Governor Signs Historic Bill Repealing Unjust Criminal Fees in California, Providing Much Needed Relief to Californians 

***Western Center is part of the Debt Free Justice Coalition, which worked to achieve the historic, first in the country victory to end state law authorizing specified criminal justice fees, resulting in the repeal of 23 criminal justice fees and expunging an estimated $16 Billion in outstanding debt.***

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Governor Signs Historic Bill Repealing Unjust Criminal Fees in California, Providing Much Needed Relief to Californians

SACRAMENTO, CA—Last Friday, Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB 1869, making California the first state in the country to repeal administrative fees in the criminal system. This historic reform will reduce the harm caused by court-imposed debt and strengthen the economic security of low-income communities of color.

AB 1869 permanently ends the assessment and collection of 23 administrative fees in the criminal system effective July 1, 2021. The bill also writes off all outstanding fee debt. The Policy Advocacy Clinic at Berkeley Law estimates that AB 1869 will relieve Californians of over $16 billion in outstanding criminal fee debt, the vast majority of which is uncollectible because people cannot afford to pay.

According to Senate Budget Chair Senator Holly J. Mitchell (D-Los Angeles): “For too long, the imposition of fees by our courts has taken away much-needed resources from people and perpetuated historic forms of racialized wealth extraction. By eliminating these criminal administrative fees, we can put money back in the pockets of Black and Latinx people and invest in the public health and safety of all communities.”

Currently, California law permits counties to charge people administrative fees related to their legal representation, probation, and incarceration. These fees often add up to thousands of dollars for a single person and pose significant barriers to reentry. Unpaid fees can be enforced via wage garnishment, bank levy, and tax refund intercept.

“As a public defender, it is painful to watch clients be saddled with fees, knowing that they won’t be able to pay,” said San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju, whose office is part of Debt Free Justice California. “The criminal legal system disrupts people’s lives and families in so many ways that adding financial penalties sets people up for failure when we should be setting them up for future success. By eliminating fees, we’re paving the way to more resilient communities.”

Angelique Evans, an organizer with A New Way of Life, shared her experience: “Almost immediately after being released from prison, Los Angeles County told me that I owed over $3,000 in administrative fees. As a mother, I wanted to prioritize taking care of my son and getting back on my feet. The fees held me back, both emotionally and financially. This bill will allow people returning home to focus on what matters most—rebuilding our families and lives.”

AB 1869 builds on years of organizing and advocacy by Debt Free Justice California. Research by the coalition shows that imposing fees on people in the criminal system is high pain because it leaves many with insurmountable debt, and low gain because counties net little, if any, revenue from these fees. Due to over-policing and racial bias in the system, the burden of fees falls disproportionately on Black and Latinx communities.

Out of concern for racial and economic justice, legality, and costs, four counties—San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa, and Los Angeles stopped charging some discretionary fees over the last few years. AB 1869 brings debt-free justice to all Californians across the state.

Jhumpa Bhattacharya, Vice President of the Insight Center for Community and Economic Development and member of Debt Free Justice California, said: “We joined together as a coalition to think bigger, broader, and more critically about how anti-Blackness, xenophobia and sexism underpin the rules of our economy, the criminal system and policing. The imposition of criminal fees was not simply a matter of good or bad fiscal policy, but a reflection of multiple systems of entrenched racism that have led to targeted policing and over-incarceration of Black and Brown communities, consequently widening racial and gender wealth inequality.”

The passage of AB 1869 will help California begin the process of reinvesting in communities and disinvesting from our carceral system.

CONTACTS:
Jhumpa Bhattacharya, Vice President of Programs and Strategy Clinical Supervising Attorney, Insight Center for Community Economic Development, 510-466-1711, jhumpa[at]insightcced.org

Stephanie Campos-Bui, UC Berkeley School of Law Policy Advocacy Clinic, 760-349-6631, scamposbui[at]law.berkeley.edu

###

Debt Free Justice California is a multi-regional, California-based coalition focused on putting a stop to the unfair ways the criminal system drains wealth from vulnerable communities. The coalition is comprised of legal advocates, policy experts, and most importantly, movement building organizations led by impacted people. For more information, visit: https://ebclc.org/cadebtjustice/about/.

Orange county ends racially discriminatory wealth extraction from thousands of families amid COVID-19 crisis

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

SANTA ANA – Today the Orange County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to end collection and discharge $18.5 million in fees charged to families with children in the juvenile system prior to 2018. The Board’s bipartisan vote follows closely on the heels of decisions made by San Diego, Riverside, and Stanislaus counties to end the collection of more than $55 million in outstanding juvenile fees earlier this year, citing the harm to county residents under COVID-19 and research about fees undermining rehabilitation and increasing recidivism.

“Thank you, Orange County, for your action on juvenile fees,” said Oscar Villeda, a local father who will benefit from today’s vote. “Families like mine are working hard day in and day out to pay for our basic necessities, some even working weekends so that we earn enough and can try to live a better life. The elimination of these fees is a great relief, allowing us to sleep better at night, especially in the economic crisis caused by COVID-19.”

Senate Bill 190, which went into effect on January 1, 2018, prohibited counties from charging new juvenile fees, but it did not require counties to end collection of previously assessed fees, much of which is decades old. According to the Orange County Probation Department, they will eliminate the outstanding fees immediately by filing necessary legal documents, notifying affected families, and returning any payments made after today’s decision.

“With Orange County’s action, 42 of California’s 58 counties have relieved hundreds of thousands of families of approximately $350 million in juvenile fees, which our research has shown to be regressive, racially discriminatory, and harmful to youth well-being,” said Stephanie Campos-Bui, Deputy Director of the Policy Advocacy Clinic at UC Berkeley School of Law.

“This decision by the county’s Board of Supervisors will be a great relief to the families carrying this tremendous burden for too long,” said Michael Harris, Senior Director, Juvenile Justice and Legal Advocacy at the National Center for Youth Law. “It was one that was disproportionately born by families of color and will help Orange County become a more equitable and just community.”

Orange County made headlines after driving a single mother to sell her home and eventually to file for bankruptcy after she was unable to pay over $16,000 in juvenile fees for her son’s public defender and his detention in a juvenile facility. Another family, featured in a May 2020 story in the Orange County Register, has struggled to pay over $8,000 that they were charged for their son’s detention nearly a decade ago. The County threatened to garnish their wages and intercept their tax return after they were unable to make a recent payment.

“After years of organizing by families, youth and community members, we are relieved to see Orange County has ended the unjust practice of doubly taxing families to fund probation and the courts,” said Crystal Anthony and Suzanne Campbell, Co-Executive Directors for Underground GRIT. “This is especially important to alleviate the burden this policy has created for our youth and families.”

Although today’s action will bring immense financial and emotional relief to Orange County families, 16 counties continue to pursue approximately $15 million in outstanding juvenile fees. Tulare County is collecting nearly three-quarters of the remaining fees statewide with a balance of almost $11 million, according to this interactive map maintained by the Berkeley researchers.

“With all the growing momentum across the state, it is time for us to pass Senate Bill 1290 and end the collection of these fees once-and-for all in California,” said Jessica Bartholow, of the Western Center on Law and Poverty. SB 1290, co-authored by Senators Maria Elena Durazo and Holly J. Mitchell, passed out of the Senate with bipartisan support and will be heard in the Assembly when the legislature reconvenes.

“These fees are harmful no matter what side of the county line you live on,” said Bartholow. “We commend the Orange County Board of Supervisors for voting to end their collection and urge the remaining counties and state to follow suit as soon as possible. California should be a national beacon of debt-free justice.”

CONTACTS:

Jessica Bartholow, Policy Advocate Western Center on Law & Poverty, (916) 282-5119, Jbartholow[at]wclp.org
Michael Harris, Senior Director National Center for Youth Law, (510) 277-5452, mharris[at]youthlaw.org
Stephanie Campos-Bui, Deputy Director Policy Advocacy Clinic, (909) 568-7410, scamposbui[at]law.berkeley.edu

###

Western Center Reaction to Governor Newsom’s Proposed 2020-2021 Budget

First and foremost, Western Center is pleased that Governor Newsom’s proposed budget includes significant and innovative proposals to address the homelessness crisis in California, which will not only help the thousands of people currently experiencing homelessness, but will also prevent more people from losing their housing. We are also pleased to see the Governor take another major step toward providing health care for all by expanding Medi-Cal coverage to undocumented adults over age 65, and to see the extension of the tax ban on period products and diapers, which makes our tax code more equitable for women, girls and young families.

We were hoping to see additional investments for CalWORKs and SSI grants in this proposal, since they are both crucial for lifting Californians out of poverty. We will continue to advocate for those increases in the final budget agreement.

Below are our initial reactions to the proposed budget by issue area. We will release an in-depth analysis next week.

Housing

The proposed budget appropriately treats the state’s homelessness crisis as an emergency. The proposal devotes additional resources to help people at risk of homelessness remain stably housed and to increase both temporary shelter capacity and permanent housing options for people already experiencing homelessness. We are pleased to see the Governor’s sustained commitment to addressing homelessness and look forward to working in partnership with his administration and legislative leaders to further develop effective, sustainable solutions to the crisis that prioritize residents living in poverty.

We agree with the Governor that the state must ramp up efforts to address the state’s shortage of housing, which is primarily a shortage at lower income levels. We are eager to work with the Governor to ensure that policies and programs to speed housing production prioritize the creation of units for households with the lowest incomes who are priced out of the rental market in every county in the state, protect low-income communities and communities of color from displacement, and increase access to high opportunity areas for our clients.

Financial Security

The budget includes funding to increase the CalWORKs child support pass through (read about it here). Currently, the first $50 of child support paid by a non-custodial parent goes to the CalWORKs family, but any amount over that is kept by state and federal governments. In the Governor’s newly proposed budget, CalWORKs families with one child will keep the first $100 of child support, and families with two or more children will keep the first $200 of child support, beginning January 2022. It also includes funding to provide debt relief for child support owed to the government that is deemed uncollectable. We are grateful that the Governor has heard from parents and families in their call for a child support program that works for children, and we are eager to see proposed associated trailer bill law changes for details. We look forward to working with the Governor and legislature to achieve the goals of conforming with federal law and regulation, and ensuring the program works to benefit the children it purports to help.

The budget also includes the extension of the tax ban on period products and diapers, which will make our tax code more equitable, since taxes on period products and diapers are regressive to poor families and young people. We look forward to continuing work in the legislature to end unmet diaper need and period poverty in California.

Additionally, the budget makes a $92 million investment in reducing criminal justice fees and their harmful, recidivistic impact on people with low-incomes and people of color, their families, and their communities. We are grateful to Budget Chair Mitchell for her leadership on this issue and look forward to working on details with her, the Governor, and other budget leaders. We’re also happy to see that Californians with low incomes will soon be able to reduce the cost of their traffic fines and the overall impact of expensive traffic tickets, with this budget proposing to expand the traffic court ability-to-pay pilot program (currently operational in four counties) statewide over several years. The pilot has yet to be evaluated, so we look forward to details from the Judicial Council to see if the program’s reductions in fines and fees are adequate or need to reduced further.

Finally, to further enhance financial security for Californians, the Governor’s budget creates a new state version of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The proposed financial watchdog will hold banks and other financial firms accountable when they engage in unfair and abusive debt collection and banking practices. Medical, student loan, school lunch, and other forms of debt disproportionally burden people experiencing poverty; we expect this new agency to offer important protections for our clients.

Health Care

We applaud the Governor for continuing to move toward universal coverage by making California the first in the nation to expand full-scope Medi-Cal to all income-eligible seniors regardless of immigration status, taking a whole person approach to Medi-Cal, and cost containment with an eye toward quality and equity. We look forward to working with the administration and legislature to advance a budget that ensures equitable access to affordable, comprehensive, quality health care for poor Californians.

The Governor’s proposal also delays suspension of benefits and eligibility, by extending certain Medi-Cal benefits (optical, audiology, podiatry, speech therapy, and incontinence creams and washes), extending Medi-Cal eligibility from 60 days to one year for post-partum women diagnosed with a mental health disorder, and expanding Medi-Cal screening for the overuse of opioids and illicit drugs, all until July 2023.

 

Lawsuit: Los Angeles Overcharges Poor Probationers

At the legal clinic run by A New Way of Life, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that provides shelter and services to formerly incarcerated women and their children, attorneys noticed a concerning pattern.

Community members who served jail or prison time persistently told attorneys that they “were being charged excessive amounts for the cost of probation, amounts that they couldn’t ever hope to repay,” said C.T. Turney-Lewis, the group’s supervising staff attorney. Oftentimes, they “have no income and were leaving probation with thousands and thousands of dollars in outstanding costs.”

…The criminal justice-related fees assessed by California counties are among the highest in the country, with Los Angeles topping the list, according to a study by the Western Center on Law & Poverty, an advocacy group of legal scholars. 

Read more

This will close in 0 seconds