A bill that would eliminate certain judicial fines in New York begins to be discussed this Wednesday in the State Assembly, opening a compass for what defenders of the penal reforms interpret as the end of a “Vicious circle of debts and penalties”. This eventual measure would significantly impact thousands of low-income residents of color, who for whatever reason have to interact with the justice system.
The legislative initiative S3979C, introduced this year by Brooklyn Rep. Julia Salazar, would eliminate court fees, mandatory minimum fines, and imprisonment for non-payment of these economic sanctions.
In addition, a complementary regulation proposes to completely cross out the fees paid for the parole benefits, an initiative carried out by the senator of Puerto Rican origin Luis Sepúlveda and the Dominican Assemblywoman Carmen de la Rosa.
Senator Julia Salazar indicated to local media that this bill eliminates mandatory court fees “onerous, discriminatory and the surcharges of the legal system ”.
If this legislation is approved, it would require the judges to analyze financial circumstances of a person, before imposing a fine. It is also about avoiding the possibilities of imprisonment, civil lawsuits or disbursements of money and surcharges in certain judicial processes.
“These fines are essentially another way of making the poor burden unfairly with another economic weight. It is time to eliminate them, since there should not be a price for justice ”, stressed Salazar.
The fines grow
Right now, New York State imposes automatic court fees on every felony and misdemeanor conviction.
According to the reasoning and reports shared by the Fines and Fees Justice Center (FFCJ) It is reiterated that these judicial economic charges fall disproportionately on the black and Latino communities.
“They also historically criminalize poverty. Failure to pay runs the risk of pursuing a civil lawsuit, arrest warrant, or even a jail sentence”, Say spokespersons for this organization that promotes comprehensive reforms to criminal justice, precisely in the heat of the overcrowding crisis that affects prisons in New York, as is the case of Rikers Island.
A national analysis by Governing, a public finance portal, revealed that New York is one of the states that relies the most on fines and fees to obtain funds. It is also verified that 500 jurisdictions in the state have increased their dependence on these incomes since 2015.
Vision of Lucas Sanchez, deputy director of New York Communities, one of the organizations that make up the coalition No price for justice, is that court fines continue to “punish” disproportionately to the poorest And this trend increases even during the months of the pandemic.
“It is obscene that people struggling to pay rent and buy food have to worry about being incarcerated, because they can’t pay arbitrary fee. By removing these burdens, urgently needed relief can be provided to thousands of people who have been excluded from rental assistance plans and the excluded worker fund, “the activist said.
Blacks and Hispanics the most affected
According to data exposed by FFJC despite representing only the 14 percent of the population from New York, blacks made up 38 percent of all arrests in 2018.
Also, although Latinos represented the 19 percent of the population, constituted until that year, the 24 percent of all arrests.
There is more data. A recent survey of the organization New York Defense Lawyers shows that almost the 65 percent of the courts “Rarely” or “never” take into account a person’s ability to pay before issuing a court order for late payment of a fine.
For her part, Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou, who defends this reform tooth and nail, regrets that fees and surcharges can accumulate while people are in prison, where there is little capacity to generate resources.
“This creates a perverse cycle, which affects a person’s credit and ability to obtain a home, which ultimately increases recidivism and prevents further offenses. incarcerated people return to society. We are working for a more equitable system and that starts with the elimination of these fees, “Niou said.
New York’s legislative history shows escalating increases in the cost of fines and surcharges associated with convictions and sentences of a number of major and minor offenses.
To cite just a few examples, a surcharge for a felony offense rises to an average of $ 300, a $ 175 misdemeanor and a surcharge for an offense averages $ 95, based on current criminal law.
The fight to “bury” these judicial fees is taking a national momentum in the words of some activists.
In the balance of Marvin Mayfield, State Organizer for the Center for Community AlternativesLast year California successfully passed legislation to eliminate court fees, and this summer US Representative Jerry Nadler held hearings on the issue.
“Now is the time for New York to act. We call on our elected leaders to approve this measure that would break with part of a system of criminalization of poverty”, He concluded.
NYPD: Detentions have been reduced
In the specific case of the Big Apple, where organizations continue to denounce that minority arrests increased during the last year, Sgt. Jessica McRoie, a spokesman for the New York City Police Department (NYPD) explained to The newspaper that during the last eight years, stops and searches of people in the streets have been under departmental scrutiny and external analysis by a federal monitor.
“We have continued to dramatically reduce the number of stop-and-go encounters since 2011, a trend that continues into the first quarter of 2021. With their innovative law enforcement paradigms, our officers will continue to use their intelligence-driven approach to focus on areas that experience a disproportionate violence and guarantee the type of constitutional vigilance free from prejudice ”, concluded the spokesman for the Uniformed.
In detail: What judicial surcharges would the law eliminate?
- Orders the courts to conduct a individualized assessment of a person’s financial capacity to pay a fine before imposing it.
- Eliminate availability imprisonment as a remedy for failure to pay a fine, surcharge, or fee. And void existing arrest warrants issued solely for failure to pay these financial penalties.
- Cancel civil lawsuits based on a person’s failure to timely pay a surcharge or fee
- Cancel surcharges and fees in the courts for parole benefits and parole.
- Deletes the requirement that a person on probation or released, who receives a termination of sentence on merit, have to meet financially with a restitution order.
- Prohibits the requirement that a person who receives discharge from the judgment, be able to financially comply with a restitution order and the payment of certain surcharges or fees.
- Repeals the mandatory minimum fines for criminal laws and traffic and vehicle offenses.
Who pays more?
According to data shared by a report from the No Price for Justice campaign:
- 6 times more chances black people compared to whites were apprehended and searched in New York City for all of 2019.
- 9 times more likely people of color had to receive a subpoena in this same period of time.
- 48% of prison sentences fell on blacks in 2018 and 22% against Hispanics, which amounts to almost more than 70% of the total of this category of punishment.
- 2 times more likely African Americans are to receive a prison sentence than whites, the reports specify.
- $ 10 million in economic surcharges New York City criminal courts imposed in 2019, but it raised just over $ 3 million (30 percent).
- $ 4 million imposed that same year the Supreme Courts of the Big Apple, raising about $ 611,000. That is to say, just 16%.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.