The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisor voted Tuesday to halt the County’s practice of collecting administrative fees from people leaving jail or on probation, aiming to remove the financial burden on low-income individuals involved in the justice system.
The moratorium, supported by Supervisors John Gioia, Federal Glover and Diane Burgis, ceases the assessment of about 14 fees that may be imposed by judges such as those for supervision, investigative reports, drug tests, electronic monitoring and participation in work alternative programs. It also places a moratorium on the collection of previously assessed fees.
The fees, which generate about $1.8 million annually for the County, are different from court-imposed fines such as restitution to the victims of crimes.
Criminal justice reform advocates say the fees do more harm than good by placing low-income residents further in financial straits, making it harder for them to turn their lives around and stay out of trouble. They also say a system of fee waivers in place prior to the moratorium, which were meant to ease the financial burden on low income individuals, was inconsistently deployed by judges.
Two supervisors who voted against the moratorium, Candace Andersen and Karen Mitchoff, agreed that low-income populations are negatively impacted in the criminal justice system, but said they could not make an informed decision on the issue due to a lack of data. They requested information indicating the amount of fees paid to the County by residents who have the ability to pay, noting that fees are in part imposed as a crime deterrent. The supervisors also want more information on why fee waivers are not being provided to those who need them in the judicial system.
While there isn’t specific data on who can afford the fees, Gioia says there is plenty of data indicating that low income populations are overwhelmingly represented in the criminal justice system.
The moratorium, Gioia said, is an opportunity to study the issue further while also stopping the harm being done.
“The best public policy is to prevent the harm to the people who have an inability to pay, and are being unconstitutionally assessed in a system we have heard is inconsistent among the judges,” Gioia said.
Contra Costa County is the third in the nation to do away with certain criminal justice fees, following San Francisco and Alameda counties. In 2016, supervisors enacted a moratorium on juvenile detention fees charged to parents and guardians of children in the juvenile justice system.
Supporters of halting criminal justice fees for both children and adults included the Contra Costa Public Defenders Association, Reentry Solutions Group, Safe Return Project, SEIU 1021, Contra Costa County Racial Justice Coalition and several other advocacy organizations.