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SB-144 Fees: criminal administrative fees.(2019-2020)

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Date Published: 01/18/2019 09:00 PM


Senate Bill No. 144

Introduced by Senator Mitchell

January 18, 2019

An act relating to criminal fees.


SB 144, as introduced, Mitchell. Fees: criminal administrative fees.
Existing law imposes various fees contingent upon a criminal arrest, prosecution, or conviction for the cost of administering the criminal justice system, including administering probation and diversion programs, collecting restitution orders, processing arrests and citations, administering drug testing, incarcerating inmates, facilitating medical visits, and sealing or expunging criminal records.
This bill would state the intent of the Legislature to enact legislation to eliminate the range of administrative fees that agencies and courts are authorized to impose to fund elements of the criminal legal system, and to eliminate all outstanding debt incurred as a result of the imposition of administrative fees.
Vote: MAJORITY   Appropriation: NO   Fiscal Committee: NO   Local Program: NO  

The people of the State of California do enact as follows:


 The Legislature finds and declares all of the following:
(a) State law authorizes counties to charge criminal administrative fees. These financial exactions are imposed in addition, in many cases, to serving time in prison, and are intended to generate revenue for public programs and to fund their operations.
(b) Administrative fees, penalty assessments, and surcharges are extraordinarily burdensome. Individuals exiting the criminal justice system are often charged dozens of administrative fees and surcharges, totaling thousands of dollars per person. In Los Angeles County, for example, someone with a 3-year term of probation accumulates over $5,500 in probation fees alone.
(c) These fees are charged to people who have already paid their debt to society and serve no formal punitive function, and are often assigned to people who simply cannot afford to pay them.
(d) This practice often pushes families into poverty and can trap them in a cycle of debt. They serve as a perpetual punishment by pushing vulnerable families further into economic insecurity and peril, as well as increased mental stress, with low-income people and people of color often hit the hardest. Additionally, a national survey of formerly incarcerated people found that families often bear the burden of fees, and that 83 percent of the people responsible for paying these costs are women.
(e) Due to overpolicing and systemic racial bias, these fees are disproportionately imposed on communities of color and are especially harmful for Black and Latinx people, who are overrepresented in the criminal legal system across the state. Despite making up only 7 percent of the state population, Black people make up 23 percent of the probation population and are also grossly overrepresented in felony and misdemeanor arrests. Moreover, close to half of Black and Latinx households in California live on the brink of poverty as they struggle to put food on the table and pay for housing.
(f) The vast majority of people exiting jail or prison are unemployed, have unstable housing, have no steady source of income, and find work difficult or nearly impossible to obtain after release. Approximately 80 percent of individuals in jail are indigent. Yet, after someone has already served their time, they frequently receive a bill for a long list of fines and fees to pay for probation, fingerprinting, and mandated user fees. According to a report by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, the average debt incurred for court-related fines and fees of over 700 people surveyed was $13,607, nearly equal to the annual income for respondents in the survey.
(g) Criminal fees also undermine public safety. The goal of a successful postincarceration period is to reintegrate into the community, yet these fees create significant barriers to successful reentry. These financial burdens frequently hit individuals at the precise moment they are trying to turn their lives around. The nonpayment of criminal fees can lead to wage garnishment, bank account levies, tax refund intercepts, driver’s and professional license suspensions, negative credit scores, and even incarceration or deportation. These consequences can, in turn, limit access to employment, housing, education, and public benefits, which creates additional barriers to successful reentry. Research also shows that the fees can push individuals into underground economies and can result in individuals turning to criminal activity or predatory lending to pay their debts.
(h) Criminal fees are also an inefficient source of government revenue. Research shows that the fees are expensive and difficult to collect. For instance, in one year, Alameda County Central Collections spent approximately $1.6 million toward collection of adult fines, fees and restitution for all cases, resulting in a net loss of $1.3 million. Similarly, a study of comparable juvenile administrative fees found that counties typically netted very little or even lost revenue after accounting for collections costs.
(i) Momentum to end criminal fees is growing in the state and individual counties have begun to recognize that these fees are “high pain, low gain,” and are taking steps to eliminate them. In May 2018, San Francisco eliminated all criminal administrative fees under its control, freeing over 21,000 people of more than $32,000,000 in outstanding criminal administrative fees and surcharges. Additionally, in December of 2018, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted to eliminate a host of county-imposed criminal fees. The board voted to eliminate $26,000,000 in fees for tens of thousands of Alameda County residents. In 2017, the County of Los Angeles eliminated its public defender registration fee.
(j) With the passage of Senate Bill 190 in 2017 and other important criminal justice reform bills, California is a national leader in criminal justice reform. In order to live up to our progressive values of fairness, equity, and opportunity for all, the Legislature should continue its work on criminal justice reform and take all measures necessary to ensure all California families have a chance to achieve economic stability and are treated fairly.

SEC. 2.

 It is the intent of the Legislature to enact legislation to eliminate the range of administrative fees that agencies and courts are authorized to impose to fund elements of the criminal legal system, and to eliminate all outstanding debt incurred as a result of the imposition of administrative fees.