Currently, California law allows counties to charge administrative fees to people in the criminal justice system, on top of the fines they may owe for the action that led to their prosecution. Although these levies are allowed solely to help counties recoup actual costs, they more often act as punishments, because administrative fees are added on to base fines, making our criminal fees some of the highest in the country and sometimes adding up to thousands of dollars for a single conviction. These hefty fines must be paid on the spot upon release, meaning that many justice-involved individuals must exhaust their resources to pay these fines at a critical time when they should be concentrating on securing housing, education, transportation, employment, and support for their families. These significant barriers to re-entry deeply and negatively impact both public safety and community stability.
In addition to unfairly burdening people at a vulnerable time, these administrative fees don’t actually help LA County. The County spends significant resources and funding to collect these fees, but they are an ineffective source of public revenue. Since 2014, County assessments averaged $121 million each year. However, the County collected an average of just $4.5 million per year. Worse still, this limited revenue goes to collection and enforcement costs rather than efforts to improve public safety.
In collaboration with community advocates and system-impacted people, the Board has focused on reducing and removing financial barriers to justice-involved individuals. In 2017, the Board removed the fifty-dollar registration fee required before an individual could access the Public Defender’s services. It went on to end fees for youth detained in Probation custody. On April 16, 2019, the Board directed relevant departments to report back on fines imposed on adults in the criminal justice system.
Los Angeles County is not alone in eliminating fines and fees for adults. San Francisco County and Alameda County both ended criminal and administration fees in 2018, discharging all outstanding debts in the process. California Senate Bill 144 was also introduced in 2018 to stop the bulk of criminal system fees imposed by the state.
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl stated, “When people are released from jail, they are often dogged by County fees and fines associated with their case. These fees, which typically range from several hundred to several thousand dollars, don’t enhance public safety or meaningfully contribute to the public coffer, and they harm men and women released from jail who are struggling to re-establish stable, law-abiding lives, as well as their families who draw on their own frequently-strained resources to try and pay them.”