Dear Colleague Letter Mar. Regarding the Hinds County Jail at 40, U. Hinds County, No. Chapter Four also discusses other enforcement strategies that are not being used by the Department and whether these additional measures could assist in ensuring that states and municipalities are not violating Constitutional rights.
Federal Reform Efforts research of these practices to ensure that the city is upholding the terms of the agreement. This process will take time and will require not only the commitment of city officials and the Ferguson community, but also the careful oversight and assistance of the independent monitor, federal court, and [the] DOJ. Constitution by failing to protect inmates from physical violence and holding prisoners in jail without confirming that a proper ability-to-pay determination had been conducted.
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Stinnie v. Holcomb is a pending lawsuit alleging that Virginia violates the Constitution by Id. Pursuant to this authority, the Department can review conditions and investigate systemic patterns and practices within correctional institutions. City of Jackson, No. Courts must not incarcerate a person for nonpayment of fines or fees without first conducting an indigency determination and establishing that the failure to pay was willful; 2.
Courts must consider alternatives to incarceration for indigent defendants unable to pay fines and fees; 3. Courts must not condition access to a judicial hearing on the prepayment of fines or fees; 4. Courts must provide meaningful notice and, in appropriate cases, counsel, when enforcing fines and fees; 5. Courts must not use arrest warrants or license suspensions as a means of coercing the payment of court debt when individuals have not been afforded constitutionally adequate procedural protections; 6. Courts must not employ bail or bond practices that cause indigent defendants to remain incarcerated solely because they cannot afford to pay for their release; and Statement of Interest Stinnie v.
Holcomb, supra note, at 4. Norquist, supra note , at 2; Nagrecha, supra note 12, at 2. Holcomb, supra note, Courts must safeguard against unconstitutional practices by court staff and private contractors. This task force works specifically to draft model statutes, compile and create best practices for the states, and to review and revise suggested guidelines for qualifications and oversight of judges in courts created by local governments or traffic courts. In addition, the cost of incarcerating an indigent individual may outweigh the fines and fees that are collected from the individual.
Nagrecha, supra note 12, at 1. In too many instances, judges are ignoring fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution, while local politicians treat the court system as an ATM for their spending priorities.
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This must change, and this task force is committed to taking steps to ensure justice for all. Juvenile justice agencies should presume that young people are unable to pay court fines and fees, and only impose them after an affirmative showing of ability to pay; 2. Before juvenile justice agencies punish youth for failing to pay fines and fees, they must first determine ability to pay, considering factors particularly applicable to youth; 3.
Juvenile justice agencies should collect data on race, national origin, sex, and persons with disabilities to determine whether the imposition of fines and fees has an unlawful disparate impact on juveniles or their families; 5. Juvenile justice agencies should consider whether the imposition or enforcement of fines and fees in any particular case comports with the rehabilitative goals of the juvenile justice system.
Mason, supra note , at 1. Alston, Director, U.
Kevin R. Culhane, Presiding Judge, Sacramento Super. Letter from Alston, supra note , at 3.
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In particular, panelists encouraged the Department to issue findings and a report from jurisdictions in addition to Ferguson, to underscore the reality that the harms from reliance on municipal fines and fees are not unique to Ferguson and therefore require further, national, reform. To the extent such efforts have existed, many of the state and local efforts to reform fines and fees have been underway for decades.
Many of the reports published by these working groups specifically mentioned the seven tenets that the Department mentioned in the letter to state chief judges and administrators. The Commission discusses these reports below. For those judges that perceived these issues prior to the letter but were unable to generate enthusiasm for change, the letter provided a perfect platform for review and modification of policies and procedures. Judicial Council to members of the Tex. Judicial Council Aug. Judicial Council, Off. Judges, Clerks, Ct. You know, these are the—this is the way the federal government thinks about these issues and DOJ thinks about these issues, so we used it to our advantage and I think it was very helpful and very well received by the Judges across the State.
Evaluating Department of Justice developed mandatory minimum standards for courts for imposition of fines and fees, following directly from the Department report on Ferguson. Seek legislation to reclassify certain criminal charges to civil violations for first-time offenses. Superior Court of Cal. County of Solano Case, No. FCS Solano Super. June 15, Test techniques to make it easier for defendants to make timely payments on courtimposed financial sanctions. Seek legislation that would grant courts discretion to close cases and write off fines and fees for traffic and misdemeanor violations after a year period if reasonable collection efforts have not been effective.
The nature and purpose of assessments have changed over time, leading to a byzantine system that attempts to pass an increased share of the cost of court administration onto the parties to court proceedings. Court fines and fees are constantly increasing and are outpacing inflation.
There is excessive variation across the state in the amount of assessments for the same type of proceedings. The cumulative impact of the assessments imposed on parties to civil lawsuits and defendants in criminal and traffic severely and disproportionately affect low- and moderate-income Illinois residents. Some states, including Colorado and Ohio, continue to dedicate work towards fixing the problem of excessive municipal court fines and fees.
The reality may be that the climate in many states was already ripe for such reforms and the Department investigation of practices in Ferguson and Id. A technical provider, which also received Departmental grants, is working with the grantees on an individual basis, as each site will use the grant money to focus on different ways to improve the resolution of fines and fees in their state e. The grantees and the technical providers have stated that the Department has been very engaged in helping shape this program by providing guidance and feedback.
Commission staff on file with the U. Commission on Civil Rights. One was able to secure other funding. The information provided below is based on the information the grantees provided the Commission through written testimony, informal interviews, and publicly available information. Texas The structure of Texas courts is complex, and its courts have varying levels of jurisdiction over enforcing fines and fees. In particular: These rules, meant to provide guidance to the local courts in best practices for ensuring that convicted defendants satisfy their legal financial obligations, placed inflexible time requirements in the collection of payments and did not provide local courts with flexibility to ensure that collections efforts did not result in an undue hardship on defendants and their dependents.
The revised rules provided mechanisms to begin to address the aforementioned problems found in the local courts. Slayton, the Texas OCA is using the grant funds to address three key initiatives to help resolve the issues of fines and fees in local courts. Also, according to their written grant application, individuals rarely satisfied their assessments through community service because of the lack of opportunities available.
While their revision process faced resistance from stakeholders, it was approved in August and began effective January See Briefing Transcript 2 statement by Slayton at Judicial Council, supra note , at 2. Evaluating Department of Justice 2. To build an online tool that will link community service and other alternative to payment options with defendants seeking those opportunities.
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In their written grant application, the Texas OCA explained that the impetus for this tool is to encourage indigent individuals to use community service opportunities and job training programs to satisfy their fines and fees assessment instead of jail credit. Moreover, their hope is that this tool would decrease incarceration costs related to fine-only offenses and promote accountability, rehabilitation, reintegration, and community trust.
In addition, OCA will conduct user surveys with judges, defendants, community organizations, and court personnel to determine the satisfaction with the tools and curriculum. Overall, the OCA expects that the impact of this grant is that fewer persons satisfy their fines and fees assessment through jail credit and instead, increase the number of individuals who opt for community service or waivers to satisfy court assessments.
In fact, some courts were jailing indigent defendants who failed to pay fines and fees. Recently, the Minority and Justice Commission convened to discuss how it is going to further address fines and fees in its state—specifically in regards to ability to pay assessments.
According to Cynthia Delostrinos the Washington Minority and Justice Commission has several plans and projects to help resolve the issue of fines and fees using their grant funds from the Department: 1. Bring together all the justice system stakeholders e. Produce a study that will outline all the laws and practices on fines and fees in Washington State. Develop policy recommendations on how they can move forward to address fines and fees practices in Washington State.
The Ability to Pay calculator was created by a Washington State judge, and the State partnered with Microsoft to further develop the tool. Delostrinos, supra note , at 2. She also explains in her testimony that most of these individuals were indigent to begin with. Blazina, Wn.
Briefing Transcript 2 statement by Delostrinos at Also, we should note that the California grantees are creating a similar Ability to Pay tool for judges in their state as well. According to Ms. Wright, these changes include advising individuals of their right to request a determination of ability to pay, sending reminder notices for court appearances, and changes to their online system that make the process of resolving fines and fees more transparent and accessible.
They will be assisting in the development of a practical, efficient, and effective tool.
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