Fines and Fees Justice: How Cities Can Prioritize Fines and Fees Reform During COVID-19

Takeaways from What Works Cities and Fines and Fees Justice Center’s Two-Part Webinar

By What Works Cities and Fines and Fees Justice Center

FFJC’s policy recommendations to alleviate financial burdens and injustices during this ongoing public health and economic crisis:

1: State and local jurisdictions should discharge all outstanding fines, fees and court debt. Where full discharge is not yet feasible, government and courts should implement immediately the following alternatives:

  • Stop sending delinquent cases to private collection companies, and direct private collection companies and probation and parole officers to stop all collection efforts.
  • Stop imposing penalties for late or missed payments of fines, fees and court debt.
  • Suspend interest on unpaid fines, fees and court debt.

State and local approaches to fines and fees justice

In our second webinar, we were joined by state and local practitioners making changes in their fines and fees policies in their COVID-19 response and recovery plans. Speakers from Minnesota, Colorado, San Francisco, and Chicago outlined their foundational work, practical approaches, and policy changes in their approach to current economic and public health challenges.

San Francisco, CA

Building on San Francisco’s model reforms in recent years, the city has been working across its departments and with the local courts to create discounts — and in some cases fully eliminate various fines and fees. This work has been led by the Financial Justice Project, the nation’s first effort embedded in government to assess and reform fines and fees that have a disproportionate and adverse impact on low-income residents and communities of color.

A sampling of various actions that were taken across departments in San Francisco to provide COVID-19 fines and fees relief.

“We’ve learned in San Francisco that this just does not work. We are not going to be able to fine and fee our way out of this problem. The math just doesn’t add up, and what would gain from it revenue-wise would not outweigh the harm that it would inflict on our residents.”

Chicago, IL

To bring relief to its residents, the City of Chicago built off of its previous reforms to bring the right stakeholders to the table and implement emergency policy measures in real time. Some of the actions that Chicago has taken to lessen the harmful impacts of fines and fees enforcement in response to COVID-19 include:

  • Enforcement on compliance-related violations will be suspended during crisis
  • Delay driver’s license suspension during crisis
  • No booting during crisis
  • Delay referral of tickets to collection firms during crisis
  • No defaults of payment plans for during crisis
  • Delay referrals to collection firms during crisis
  • No defaults of payment plans during crisis
  • Delay referrals to collection firms during crisis
  • No defaults of payment plans during crisis

Additional Resources from FFJC

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