The Alameda County Board of Supervisors’ Public Protection Committee recommended Thursday that the full board approve the elimination of administrative court fees for people who are convicted of crimes.
The committee took that action at the end of a lengthy hearing at which several activist groups said the fees should be eliminated because they often are a long-term financial burden on low-income people who already served time for their crimes and then have problems turning their lives around.
They said that’s because the debts cause such people to have problems getting credit, housing and jobs.
If the full board votes next month to approve eliminating the court fees, Alameda County would become only the second county in the U.S. to do so, following San Francisco, which took that step earlier this year.
Supervisor Scott Haggerty said ending the fees “makes sense because that would help people who are trying to become productive citizens, getting housing and moving on with their lives.”
Haggerty said, “It’s a no-brainer.”
Supervisor Richard Valle said, “We’re moving in a really positive direction.”
Alameda County Chief Probation Officer Wendy Still told the committee that defendants are charged probation supervision fees of between $30 to $90 per month and pre-charge investigation report fees of between $250 and $710.
Still said it’s difficult for many low-income people to pay the court fees they owe and currently 34,415 ex-offenders are indebted and owe a total of $21.3 million, which is an average of about $600 a person.
Alameda County Public Defender Brendon Woods also urged the committee to eliminate the fees, saying they are “crippling” and “have a huge impact on low-income defendants.”
Haggerty said, “It’s ridiculous we’re causing these debts.”
Among the groups that are urging Alameda County to eliminate the court fees are the East Bay Community Law Center, a Berkeley-based legal services provider that represents low-income people, and the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, a nonprofit group based in Oakland.
The law center said that in 2016, Alameda County eliminated juvenile fees and fines, which led to the passage of a bill that made California the first state in the country to eliminate those fees and fines for juveniles.
The center says it has convened a statewide coalition to end adult criminal justice fees throughout California.