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London Breed targets criminal fees for elimination

San Francisco could be the first city in the nation to eliminate criminal justice fees levied on individuals exiting the criminal justice system after Board of Supervisors President London Breed introduced legislation on Tuesday’s board meeting.

Breed said earlier at a press conference at City Hall that the fees imposed on individuals re-entering society creates barriers for those trying to turn their lives around:

“We should not allow these fines and fees to be barriers to making sure that they have opportunity to succeed in life.”

Breed added:

“They’ve already paid their debt to society. Yet outside, they are shackled by the financial debt that these fees bring to the table.”

The City is also not making much progress in collecting the fees, said Breed. In 2016, The City collected only 9 percent of adult probation fees, and the average collection rate of all court criminal fees between 2012 and 2016 was 17 percent.

Public Defender Jeff Adachi said there are 55 fees and fines imposed on individuals, and compared those fees to payday loans that will follow the person for the rest of their life.

Some of those fees imposed on individuals include construction work on the courthouse to fees for electronic monitoring devices, said Adachi:

“The idea that somehow people should fund their own persecution is really insane.”

Under the proposal, adult probation fees, electronic monitoring fees, booking fee, pre-sentence report fee and fees related to the Sherriff Department’s Work Alternative Program.

Joe Williams is one of those hit hard by the fees after leaving the county jail. Williams said he has taken on two jobs to try to pay the fees, and barely has enough to pay for rent and childcare for his two kids:

“This egregious burden and penalties have significant impacts on fellow citizens already immobilized in extreme poverty.”

Williams added:

“I believe the removal of court-based debt systems will enable whole communities to thrive, for individuals to move forward.”

Sheriff Vicki Hennessy announced on Tuesday that the department will eliminate electronic monitor fees and fees individuals must pay to participate in the department’s Work Alternative Program, where defenders pay a $100 sign up fee and then $20 day to participate in community service projects instead of being incarcerated.

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