Recently, a coalition of community groups, impacted people, and advocates released a report, “Costs of Injustice: How Criminal System Fees Are Hurting Los Angeles Families,” documenting fees L.A. County collects using the criminal legal system and demanding it eliminate these fees.
People in L.A. County are charged a bewildering variety of assessments, processing fees, facilities fees, program fees, and more. Just the use of a court-appointed public defender, for example, can result in fees amounting to hundreds and even thousands of dollars.
The report shows how a $300 fine for a first-time, no-injury DUI can end up costing more than $2,000. Another example: a person who completes a jail sentence for property theft can then be hit with court charges amounting to nearly $8,000, including monthly probation fees.
Choosing community service because of the inability to pay a fine comes with its own costs. In fact, just enrolling in a community service program can require a $50 payment.
For people who are struggling financially, these fees can plunge them into debt that multiplies as due dates are missed. And they disproportionally harm Black and Latinx communities.
“Let us have a fair chance by eliminating fees, fines, penalties, and assessments and allow us to enjoy all the great things Los Angeles County has to offer, not just its criminal system,” said Anthony Robles, organizer with Youth Justice Coalition.
“Costs of Injustice” makes five key recommendations for L.A. County:
- Eliminate all criminal system fees under country control.
- Reinvest savings from collection costs in community services, including re-entry support.
- Establish effective oversight of third-party providers of classes and other court-ordered programs.
- Support state legislation to minimize criminal system fees.
- Change practices that lead to excessive pretrial time in detention, forcing plea deals that impose burdensome fees.
The “Costs of Injustice” report was produced by Let’s Get Free L.A., a coalition of people who have experienced county jails, courts, and probation, as well as several organizations: the ACLU of Southern California, the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, the Community Coalition, Homeboy Industries, the National Lawyers Guild-L.A., Public Counsel, and the Youth Justice Coalition.
The report, which includes stories of several people whose lives were severely impacted by fines and fees, also points out that there is no good economic reason to keep the county fees. Currently, L.A. County collects only a tiny percentage of fees assessed because people cannot pay them, and it spends millions on collection.
Some other counties in California, including San Francisco, have already successfully eliminated criminal court fees. A bill pending in the California legislature, SB 144, would eliminate many of these fees.
Read the “Costs of Injustice” report here: aclusocal.org/costsofinjustice.
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