On Tues., Dec. 4 the Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted to put a permanent stop to the assessment and collection of fees imposed on individuals in the criminal justice system.
Following the lead of San Francisco County’s June 2018 decision and building on more than two years of advocacy on the part of the East Bay Community Law Center (EBCLC) and Debt Free Justice California coalition partners, Alameda County ceased the assessment and collection of fees for probation supervision, investigation reports, participation in the Sheriff’s Work Alternative Program, and many more fees that extract wealth from low-income communities of color. In past years, the average adult on probation in Alameda County has faced over $6,000 in fees. The new policy, along with the discharge of existing debt, will go into effect on January 4, 2019.
The Board of Supervisors was influenced by a white paper released last month by the EBCLC, which outlined how these fees inflict harm on low-income defendants by perpetuating poverty and creating additional barriers to employment, housing, and reentry. And because people of color are arrested and punished disproportionately, communities of color bear a much heavier burden of the costs.
Said Theresa Zhen, supervising attorney at EBCLC, “I’ve worked with far too many clients whose life savings were wiped out by criminal justice debt. Now, thousands of people in Alameda County can focus on building a sustainable life for their families instead of constantly finding their wages garnished, their bank accounts levied, and their tax returns intercepted. It’s been my honor to partner with impacted people to win this fight, and we applaud the Board of Supervisors for taking this courageous step forward.”
“The elimination of these fees is a step toward ending the cycles of poverty and incarceration,” said Eric Henderson, Policy Associate at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. “These fees impact families and low-income communities in ways that take generations to recover from.”
According to Stephanie Campos-Bui, supervising attorney with the Policy Advocacy Clinic at Berkeley Law, “Research has shown that fees can undermine public safety by increasing recidivism. This move by the Board will free up money to pay for basic necessities like housing, food, and clothing, and help ensure that people exiting the system will have a better chance of successfully reentering into their communities.”
Noe Gudiño, Policy Fellow at Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, said, "Ending court fines and fees will allow people directly impacted by the criminal justice system— disproportionally low-income people of color—to invest more in themselves and their families, creating healthier and safer communities for all."
Added Brandon Greene, supervising attorney at EBCLC, “This is a huge, historic victory and one that we hope will build inertia for a statewide push. California has the opportunity to set the tone for the rest of the country. This is just one victory that is part of a much larger movement. Our partners in the Debt Free Justice California coalition are building power in local communities that we are confident will translate into a more fair and equitable California!”
Debt Free Justice California (DFJC) is a statewide advocacy coalition chaired by EBCLC and driven by movement-building organizations of directly impacted people. DFJC coalition members plan to leverage this county-level achievement to bolster their fight for statewide criminal justice fees abolition.