San Francisco will make history on July 1 when it becomes the first jurisdiction in the nation to stop charging ex-offenders fees that keep many of them in debt and on the brink of reoffending. The overhaul also affects those found guilty of minor offenses, including traffic law violations.
Under the old system, San Francisco could charge people a $50 monthly probation fee, which typically lasts for three years. Officials could also charge up to $35 a day for an electronic monitor. Across the state, running a red light could result in a $390 fee in addition to a $100 fine.
Jurisdictions in practically every state charge similar fees to people convicted of criminal offenses—from felonies to minor infractions—to help cover the cost of operating the criminal justice system.
As a practical matter in the decision to stop the fees, more than 80 percent of charges went unpaid, the Chronicle said. The fee system also disproportionately impacted low-income and minority residents.
“These financial burdens frequently hit individuals at the precise moment they are trying to turn their lives around. The vast majority of people exiting jail or prison are unemployed, have unstable housing, have no steady source of income and find work difficult or nearly impossible to obtain after release,” said San Francisco Mayor-elect London Breed, who authored the ordinance.
The fees are “an anemic and counterproductive source of revenue,” Anne Stuhldreher, director of The Financial Justice Project in the San Francisco treasurer’s office, wrote in a Sacramento Bee op-ed.
She added: “These fees are assessed on individuals who have already served time in jail, paid other fines or are paying victim restitution. They are supposed to cover costs, not create more punishment.”
San Francisco’s Supervisors hope that this change will “inspire other jurisdictions to lift this burden off of low-income families,” the ordinance said.