Across the country, city and county leaders are advancing bold reforms to ensure their fines, fees, and tickets do not place a disproportionate burden on residents living on low incomes and people of color. These local leaders have found that fines and fees that exceed residents’ ability to pay are often a lose-lose, for people and for government.

To seize on this emerging momentum for change, PolicyLink, the San Francisco Financial Justice Project, and the Fines and Fees Justice Center have established Cities & Counties for Fine and Fee Justice, a national leadership network of local places committed to meaningful fine and fee reform, that works better for people and for government.

The local officials driving these reforms are united by several core beliefs: (1) it is possible to hold people accountable without putting them in financial distress; (2) people with lower incomes should not face more severe consequences than middle- and upper-income residents; (3) governments should not balance their books on the backs of the least fortunate individuals in their communities.

In May 2020, ten jurisdictions were selected to join the network to pursue bold, innovative solutions to reform unjust fines and fees.

  • Allegheny County, PA
  • Chicago, IL
  • Dallas, TX
  • Durham, NC
  • Philadelphia, PA
  • Providence, RI
  • Sacramento City and County, CA
  • Seattle/King County, WA
  • Shelby County, TN
  • St. Paul, MN

Through Cities & Counties for Fine and Fee Justice, these local government leaders will have an opportunity to lead local teams that advance cutting-edge policies, engage with experts and peers from across the country, and catalyze a national movement to advance equitable fine and fee reform. Participating localities will receive grant funding, individualized technical assistance, and training on a range of tools, strategies, promising policies, and best practices. 

Watch the first Network webinar: Conducting a Fine and Fee Assessment Part 1 —  Engaging Community

The Roadmap to Equitable Fine and Fee Reform, shares approaches and practices to advance fine and fee reform. This guide is a distillation of the curriculum provided through the Network, and we hope will provide insights and direction for anyone hoping to advance reform in their cities and counties.

For more information about Cities & Counties for Fine and Fee Justice, contact us at CCFFJ@policylink.org.

What will participating cities and counties do?

The newly selected jurisdictions will work together over the course of 18 months to develop and implement reforms to fines and fees, sharing approaches and breakthroughs within the network and with other cities and counties. The participating cities and counties will develop and implement three meaningful reforms of fines, fees, or other financial penalties. To achieve this goal, participants will:

  • Reach out to and engage with community groups to inform policy development, advancement, and implementation.

  • Conduct a fines and fees assessment to identify fines, fees, tickets, and financial penalties that have an adverse impact on low-income people and people of color.

  • Build a reform agenda informed by the fines and fees assessment as well as engagement with community groups.

  • Catalyze reforms across the U.S. by sharing lessons learned and best practices with officials in other jurisdictions.

What are examples of city and county leadership on fine and fee reform from across the country?

  • San Francisco — led by network partner The San Francisco Financial Justice Project, based in the San Francisco Treasurer's office — has been a trailblazer in fine and fee reform since 2016. Seeking to advance reforms that will make a difference in people's lives and are doable for the courts and departments to implement, the Financial Justice Project has worked to eliminate or adjust dozens of fines and fees. For a list of these reforms, please click here.

  • New York City made all phone calls from jail free and lifted an economic burden of incarcerated people and their families. Shelby County, TN also made all phone calls to juvenile detention facilities free.

  • Chicago recently announced it would end driver's license suspensions for people who cannot pay city sticker fines and parking tickets; create more accessible payment plans for people with trouble paying, and end the practice of writing up city sticker violators twice in one day.

  • Durham, NC recently implemented a program with the District Attorney and the court to waive old traffic fines and fees and helped restore 35,000 driver's licenses that had been suspended for non-payment.

  • Alameda County's Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to eliminate criminal justice administrative fees in 2019, including fees charged for a public defender, monthly probation supervision fees, and several others.

  • The City of Los Angeles voided nearly 2 million minor citations and warrants that had kept people trapped in the court system. The announcement was designed to fix a system that has led to many people being repeatedly ticketed and arrested for minor infractions, leading to growing fines and warrants.

More information on these and other local fine and fee reforms can be found in Appendix A of the Roadmap to Equitable Fine and Fee Reform and on the Fines and Fees Justice Center's Counties and Cities campaign page.

About the Partners:

The San Francisco Financial Justice Project (FJP) is the nation’s first effort embedded in government to assess and reform fines, fees, and financial penalties disproportionately impacting low-income residents and communities of color. Working with community organizations, advocates, city and county departments, and courts, FJP has spearheaded the elimination or reduction of dozens of fines and fees and lifted millions of dollars in debt off of tens of thousands of local residents. The Project’s accomplishments are listed here, and here is a guide to available fine and fee discounts for San Francisco low-income residents.

The Fines and Fees Justice Center (FFJC) seeks to catalyze a movement to eliminate the fines and fees that distort justice. FFJC’s goal is to eliminate fees in the justice system and to ensure that fines are equitably imposed and enforced. FFJC provides resources, makes critical connections, offers strategic advice, and serves as a hub for the fines and fees reform movement, working with impacted communities, researchers, advocates, legislators, justice system stakeholders, and media all across America. For more information on fines and fees work around the country please see the searchable FFJC Clearinghouse here.

PolicyLink is a national research and action institute advancing racial and economic equity by Lifting Up What Works. Over the last several years, PolicyLink has worked to educate advocates and government leaders about the harmful impact of fines and fees on low-income communities, particularly those of color. PolicyLink is a leading proponent of the Families Over Fees Act (also known as California Senate Bill 144), potentially groundbreaking legislation that would eliminate virtually all criminal fees in California. PolicyLink is also a  steering committee member of Debt Free Justice California, a statewide coalition committed to ending criminal legal system policies that disproportionately penalize low-income people.