In a sweeping move, San Francisco's Superior Court has completely erased $32M in court fees for 21K people leaving the justice system.— Vera Institute (@verainstitute) August 28, 2018
“We should be actively helping people to get their lives back on track after they have paid their debt to society." https://t.co/ThzEoGIaaf
A new order by the San Francisco Supreme Court is making it easier for former criminals and inmates to turn over a new leaf.
The order, which will be publicly announced Thursday, waived off thousands of dollars of administrative fees of people who have left the criminal justice system.
Countless people around the country have been burdened by astronomical fees — which can range to tens of thousands — after their stint in jail. However, under the new directive, about $32 million in court fees from around 21,000 people are being pardoned in total, going back to early August.
The legislation was led by San Francisco Mayor London Breed when she was on the Board of Supervisors. After the ordinance passed the board unanimously, it banned the city, county and the court from collecting fees from people were exiting the criminal justice system. However, initially, the law wasn’t retroactive leaving thousands of people who still had to bear the burden of the costs.
Fortunately, that changed after the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office appealed to the Superior Court to drop the charges on 21,000 people. The city first estimated that about $15 million would be waived, but the number was actually more than twice that totaling up to $32 million.
“We should be actively helping people to get their lives back on track after they have paid their debt to society,” Mayor Breed said in a statement. “Garnishing the wages of people facing the challenging task of securing employment and housing can make that impossible.”
The point of the legislation is to lift the unnecessary financial burden from people who were caught in the criminal justice system and who belong to the low-income community and cannot afford the fees. The fees were supposed to cover the cost of the criminal justice programs, like administrative fee, restitution fee, booking fees and probation costs. However, the treasury and tax collector office found over 80 percent of such bills remained unpaid, so the city hardly received any benefits.
“These fees were not doing their job ... These are people who have paid other consequences,” said Anne Stuhldreher, director of San Francisco’s Financial Justice Project. “These fees are designed to recoup costs, and they don’t do that. We need to fund our criminal justice system in a more fair and just way than on the backs of poor people.”
By erasing the fees, the city may lose up to $1 million each year but the difference will be filled from other programs of the city’s budget.
David Ladd was released from San Francisco County Jail seven years ago, where he was placed for committing a felony. It was a shock from him to suddenly get a bill that totaled almost $5,000. However, in August, the amount of the administrative fee ($2,725) suddenly dropped to $640, which was a much more affordable amount for him. The rest of the fees were the ones he owed to the state, which the San Francisco ordinance could not address.
Ladd, whose leg was amputated because of an old injury, is finding it very difficult to find work, which is why the new law is a boon for him.
“It’s insane, you just can’t get yourself together,” he said of the administrative fees. But the fee pardon, he said, has helped him “a great deal.”
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