Across the country, courts often impose excessive fines and fees without considering an individual’s ability to pay – disproportionately impacting low-income communities and communities of color.
This week, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) reintroduced the State Justice Improvement Act, legislation that will make lasting changes to America’s criminal justice system.
This legislation provides state and local courts with new and expanded federal funding opportunities to reform these monetary punishment policies.
“All Americans, regardless of their socioeconomic status, deserve equal access to our nation’s criminal justice system,” said Chairman Nadler.
“Sadly, numerous courts across the nation impose excessive fees and fines which have failed to improve public safety, and instead have placed an undue burden on low-income communities and communities of color. Our legislation will help address these injustices so that we take a step toward bringing an end to the poverty to prison pipeline, and restore public trust in our criminal justice system.”
According to available state data, the national court-related debt total is at least $26.7 billion.
Excessive court fines and fees disproportionately burden low-income communities and communities of color. Individuals who are unable to pay face serious consequences, including more fees, license suspensions, extended probation, and incarceration – trapping people in the criminal justice system.
As a result, they can lose their jobs, their homes, and even their children. In the 50 cities with the highest proportion of revenues from fines, the median size of the African American population in each city was greater than five times the median in the United States.
The State Justice Improvement Act is a meaningful step forward in creating a justice system that treats individuals fairly and ensures public safety. The legislation will help jurisdictions enforce constitutional and equitable policies by broadening the activities available for federal funding.
The grants will be used to provide technical assistance and training to state and local courts as they develop effective alternatives to fines and fees, should a person be deemed unable to pay, as well driver’s license suspensions.
“All Americans deserve equal treatment under the law, no matter how much money is in their bank accounts,” said Senator Schatz. “Our bill will help to end the cycle of poverty and incarceration, creating a justice system that treats people fairly and keeps our communities safe.”