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SF eliminates $32 million in criminal court fees

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Mary Vandigriff, center, an assistant of lobby supervisor for Solutions SF, speaks at a press conference announcing eliminating 21,000 individuals' debts from local administrative criminal justice fees outside City Hall in San Francisco, Calif., on Thursday, Aug 23, 2018.

San Francisco has eliminated $32 million in outstanding local court fees owed by individuals who left the criminal justice system, city officials announced on Thursday at City Hall.

The Board of Supervisors in June passed legislation that made The City the first in the nation stop adding on local administrative and court fees. Mayor London Breed was the sponsor of the legislation when she was president of the board. The legislation though was not retroactive to individuals who still owed outstanding court fees prior to the passage of the legislation.

Public Defender Jeff Adachi and District Attorney George Gascón petitioned the San Francisco Superior Court for the 21,000 individuals who still owed fees to the court prior to the legislation becoming law. Now those individuals will no longer owe those fees.

Breed said:

“People have been charged these fees for years and a lot of the debt has built up. The burden has been bearing down on thousands of families across The City.”

Individuals leaving the criminal justice system are left to pay off thousands of dollars in court and administrative fees and are usually not related to a person’s conviction. If a person is unable to pay the fees, The City goes after a person’s paycheck.

Breed added that the court fees was not sufficient way of raising revenue for The City:

“Charging people for fees who simply cannot afford to pay them is not the way balance our books.”

In some cases, The City was only able to collect 9 percent of some of the fees, said Breed.

Tax Treasurer José Cisneros started the Financial Justice Project that looked at how fines and fees affect the most vulnerable population in The City:

“They often trap people in debt they could not escape.”

Mary Vandigriff, a single mother with a criminal past, worried about how she would be able to pay the court and administrative fees before the legislation became law:

“Worrying about these court, fines and fees made it hard to sleep at night. I was always wondering when my check was going to be garnished when I was trying to get back on my feet and be successful in my life.”

Vandigriff said:

“Today I no longer have to worry.”

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