Advocates call for county moratorium on certain criminal justice fees

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The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday is set to consider a moratorium on imposing certain criminal justice fees.

Rubicon Programs, an East Bay organization that works to provide pathways out of poverty for community members, is among groups advocating in favor of the moratorium, which as proposed would immediately cease the assessment of fees and collection of previously assessed fees.

Separate from fines and restitution imposed upon individiuals convicted of crimes, administrative fees are not state-mandated, but allowed, and they include fees for supervision, investigative reports, drug tests, electronic monitoring, participation in work alternative programs and representation by the Public Defender’s Office, according to Rubicon.

The proposed elimination of fees (as shown in the chart) would reduce Contra Costa County revenue by about $1.8 million annually, and about $550,000 this fiscal year, according to county staff.

Such fees have been imposed in local governments nationwide as a way to raise revenue for shrinking budgets, according to Stephanie Campos-Bui, clinical supervising attorney in the Policy Advocacy Clinic at UC Berkeley School of Law.

Calling the practice “inequitable” and “unsustainable,” Campos-Bui is among criminal justice reform advocates who say such fees unfairly burden low-income communities of color and add barriers to an individual’s ability to lead a financially stable life.

“Criminal fees could potentially undermine safety,” the County’s Public Protection Committee found following two meetings on the issue. “The goal of a successful post-incarceration period is to reintegrate into the community, yet these fees can create significant barriers to successful reentry.”

“People may be denied release from probation until all fees have been paid; their paychecks may be garnished or tax refunds intercepted for decades; they may be subjected to harsh and unreasonable demands by for-profit debt collectors hired to compel payment; and such fees may render them ineligible to clear their records as permitted by law,” according to Rubicon.  

For those struggling to make ends meet, “excessive fees turn into crushing debt, which hobbles families and harms our larger communities,” said Rebecca Brown, Director of Reentry Solutions Group.

Earlier this year, the California Senate approved legislation that would eliminate similar fees statewide. Senate Bill 144, authored by Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, passed the Senate and is set to be heard by the Assembly Public Safety Committee in early 2020.

For more information on the county’s proposed moratorium, see the county agenda documents here.

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