S.F. Scrubs $32 Million in Criminal Justice Fees

About 21,000 thousand people have exited the criminal justice system without debt thanks to a new San Francisco law.

Since landmark legislation was enacted in June, the San Francisco Superior Court has erased an astonishing $32 million in debt for thousands of people leaving the criminal justice system.

That $32 million applied to just 21,000 people saddled with local administrative fees that, while burdensome, are hardly paid in full. Mayor London Breed, who brought the bill forward in February as a supervisor, announced the milestone on Thursday.

“We should be actively helping people to get their lives back on track after they have paid their debt to society,” Breed said in a statement. “Garnishing the wages of people facing the challenging task of securing employment and housing can make that impossible.”

The fees were in place for basic processing, like the $135 booking fee, pre-sentence report fee for $150, and the $35 charged each day for electronic ankle monitors after paying $125 for it up front. Oakland’s Ella Baker Center for Justice found that formerly incarcerated people have an average fee debt fine of $13, 607 — nearly the same amount of the survey respondent’s annual income.

As a result, just 17 percent of those fees were collected, according to the Mayor’s Office. The city is expected to miss about $1 million in revenue each year.

San Francisco became the nation’s first county to eliminate local administrative fees relating to crime and courts — but not retroactively. It was supported by the criminal justice powers that be, like District Attorney George Gascon and Public Defender Jeff Adachi.

“Poor residents have been shackled with unpayable fees that nearly guarantee their exclusion from decent housing and employment,” said Javier Bremond, an organizer for Community Housing Partnership, a nonprofit advocacy group for homeless individuals. “Freedom from this debt allows people a fair chance to get their lives back on track.”

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