The Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to approve an ordinance that eliminates administrative court fees for people who are convicted of crimes. If the full board votes as expected to approve a second reading of the ordinance on Dec. 4, Alameda County will become only the second county in the U.S. to eliminate the fees, following San Francisco, which took that step earlier this year. In addition, $26 million in court administrative fees that haven’t been collected will be waived.
The new policy would take effect in January. Alameda County Public Defender Brendon Woods, the East Bay Community Law Center, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and other groups
told the board that the fees should be eliminated because they create a long-term financial burden for low-income people who already served time for their crimes but 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. Currently, Alameda County charges defendants probation supervision fees of between $30 to $90 per month, pre-charge investigation report fees of between $250 and $710 and $150 or more for representation by the Public Defender’s Office.
Advocates for eliminating the fees said the average adult on probation in Alameda County spends five years under supervision and can face more than $6,000 in fees. Noe Gudino, a junior at California State University East Bay who is a member of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, All of Us or None and other groups said the fees made it harder for him to get his life back on track after he was incarcerated because when he got a job his wages were garnished.
Julia Root of the Center for Employment Opportunities told the board that the fees cause “undue emotional and financial stress” for incarcerated people and their families and said she has a family member who could face up to $10,000 in fees when he’s released in the near future.
The ordinance approved by the board says the fees “can have long-term effects that can undermine successful societal re-entry goals of the formerly-incarcerated, such as attaining stable housing, transportation and employment.”
Woods said after the meeting that the fees “are a tremendous burden to people who are trying to get back on their feet” after serving time. He said eliminating the fees “is the right thing to do.”
County Administrator Susan Muranishi told the board that eliminating the fees means the county will lose about $1.45 million in revenue annually but said the county will explore other funding opportunities to replace that revenue.