Giving Compass' Take:
- Tonantzin Carmona breaks down how to approach reforming inequitable fines and fees that disproportionately impact Black and Latinx communities.
- What role can you play in addressing the problem of inequitable fines and fees? Which type of fine or fee can you begin addressing?
- Learn how court fees reinforce criminal injustice in rural areas.
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As the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated economic insecurity for millions of people across the U.S., many cities instituted policies and programs aimed at providing some relief to individuals and families. These include policies that temporarily halted fines and fees collections, which disproportionately impact Black and Latino or Hispanic communities.
Fees are often used as a surcharge to fund local government services, and fines—such as parking tickets—are a form of punishment for violating a municipal code or law. Even before the pandemic, there were many individuals who had to choose between paying such tickets and paying rent, utilities, or groceries. While halting fines and fees collections provided relief to some, it was only temporary, and the need to rethink local government revenue collection practices remains.
As a result of American Rescue Plan Act (ARP) funding, cities currently have the flexibility to make significant investments that can build up the economic reserves of individuals and families, particularly lower-income ones. The problem is many of these efforts to support low-income populations can be undone by inequitable revenue-raising practices.
Below are six recommendations on how local government leaders can begin to reform their fines and fees practices.
LISTEN TO THE PEOPLE DIRECTLY IMPACTED BY FINES AND FEES
One way to begin reforming fines and fees practices is by establishing a working group comprised of individuals who have been directly impacted by existing policies. Residents, community-based organizations, advocacy groups, and local government department staff should also be included, so stakeholders are involved throughout every step of the policy design, reform, and implementation process.
GATHER INFORMATION AND BUILD A LONG-TERM DATA COLLECTION PROCESS
To prioritize reform areas and support the working group’s efforts, local government staff should conduct an internal review of their existing fines and fees policies. Interviews should be conducted with government staff responsible for revenue collection and budget management, as well as frontline staff who interact with residents. Policymakers should also consult with other local governments that have undergone reforms in order to gain an understanding of their successes and challenges.
BREAK THE PROBLEM DOWN INTO SMALLER COMPONENTS
When it comes to fines and fees policies, determining where to even start the reform process may seem daunting. Thus, it may be helpful to break the fines and fees landscape down from broader categories into more specific ones.
Read the full article about inequitable fines and fees by Tonantzin Carmona at Brookings.