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Advocates: End Predatory Court Fines and Fees

The Legal Aid Society is supporting proposed legislation that would do away with predatory Court fines and fees such as mandatory minimums fines and surcharges in New York State, as reported by theĀ Queens Daily Eagle.

Advocates gathered in Albany earlier this week to testify in support of the End Predatory Court Fees act, explaining that these fees effectively criminalize poverty, keeping poor people locked in a cycle of debt and punishment. One mother testified that her son’s court fees and bail, which she struggles to pay herself, exceeded $12,000. Such significant fines are not uncommon.

In addition to eliminating mandatory minimums, the bill would end probation costs and stop the State from seizing commissary accounts of incarcerated people who cannot pay their bills. It would not eliminate fines altogether, but would instead give judges discretion to adjust fees based on ability to pay.

The fines and fees that would be eliminated by the bill were implemented in the 1980s and 1990s as revenue-raisers for the state, but the ineffective and costly process to extract wealth from New York’s poorest communities has done little to improve New York’s budget lines. Some advocates believe that the current system may actually cost the state money.

Fine and fee structures like New York’s have been criticized across the country for incentivizing aggressive enforcement, increasing the likelihood of violent police interactions, and creating modern-day debtor’s prisons. The legislation was introduced by State Senator Julia Salazar, who described the current system of fees as “a perverse financial incentive to cycle people through the criminal legal system without any clear benefit to public safety or to society.”