SF To Vote On Waiver of Criminal Court Local Administrative Fees

KQED recently reported on an effort to waive debt and local court fees (not all fees) on criminal convictions. It turns out that most of these fees are not collected and there is a sense that a path to the straight and narrow should not involve endless debt. Currently there is more than $15.5 million piling up as debt and that is only for the last 6 years recorded.

The city collects about $1M per year, which is just a small percentage. These fees are not a deterrent but rather a reimbursement for local administrative tasks that some argue should be covered in a general budget. The kinds of fees at issue include: electronic monitoring, fees for being booked in to jail, monthly probation department fees or restitution collection fees. They do not include, for example, fines or restitution.

At this point, over 20,000 people owe money on top of their fines, and this prevents such people from avoiding a warrant or getting their record cleared.

How many people have debt from all these fines and fees? 20,000 people owe nearly $16MM in fees.

On February 6, 2018, the issue was raised by Board of Supervisors president (Mayoral Candidate) London Breed, who announced this at a press conference:

“These are fees that have created barriers to reentry just when people are looking to turn their lives around. This has disproportionately affected many communities of color for decades. That contributes to the never ending cycle of poverty…”

According to the piece, the measure is likely to pass. If it does, it will wipe out debt that exists and cancel certain fees moving forward. In the face of violations of probation (VOPs)and because people with criminal convictions need to clear their record to gain employment and move forward, the extreme debt the stats show has social costs. It is best not to set people up for failure.