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Fees & Fines: A Cycle of Punishment and Poverty

Updated: Sep 24, 2021

Presented July 22,2021 by the Legal Services Funders Network via Zoom


The past year has shed a light on many parts of our criminal and civil justice system that increase and extend inequities. In many places in California, and across the United States:

  • People engaging in the same actions (such as driving with a broken tail light) experience radically different treatment and outcomes based on how they present. While most "white, middle and upper class folks" are treated in a courteous manner and sent off with a warning, BIPOC folks often receive a ticket and hostile treatment.

  • Law enforcement and courts next impose fines (often exorbitant) as a punishment for minor traffic and municipal code violations, misdemeanors and felonies. Such fees have put a price tag on justice, one that is far beyond the reach of many in our communities.

  • Individuals are then forced to pay additional fees, surcharges, and costs used to fund the justice system and other government services, an unforgiving cycle that disproportionately affects our most vulnerable communities. People who are unable to immediately pay face additional fees, license suspensions, loss of voting rights, even arrest and jail. Stuck in a cycle of punishment and poverty, these Californias can lose their jobs, their homes, and even their children.

  • Arrest records and case outcomes are then used as a barrier for folks to secure employment and housing.

Unjust fines and fees have the power to devastate the lives of thousands of Californians every year, pushing those with modest fixed incomes to choose between paying rent or putting food on the table. On July 22nd the LSFN convened an expert panel (listed below) to discuss fees & fines, their disproportionately negative effects on the communities we serve, how Legal Services Organizations (LSOs) are helping to negate the disproportionate impact through direct services, impact litigation and policy reform.

In conversation with LSFN co-founder Claire M. Solot, panelists shared insights from the forefront of this work, why the fight continues, and how the work can be supported. The work to end unjust fees & fines from impacting our most vulnerable communities and is vital, and the LSFN deeply appreciates the panelists for sharing their expertise and experience.


Eva DeLair, Root & Rebound

Asher Waite-Jones, East Bay Community Law Center

Other Resources:


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