The Reports



Towed Into Debt: How Towing Practices in California Punish Poor People

Returning to your parking place only to find your car is missing – and has been towed by the city – is a terrible surprise in the best of circumstances. Your car will be held hostage until you make the inconvenient trip to the tow yard and pay astronomical fees to get your own car back. For people who are low income, however, the consequences of a towed vehicle can be devastating. The cost to retrieve a car after a city-ordered tow is out of reach for many. Thus, for many Californians, a vehicle tow means the permanent loss of their car and, along with it, the loss of employment, access to education and medical care, and, for some, their only shelter. Nonetheless, local governments throughout California regularly tow vehicles for relatively minor offenses: outstanding parking tickets, lapsed vehicle registration, and remaining parked in one place for more than 72 hours. Despite constitutional limits on the government’s ability to seize a vehicle in these non-emergency situations, cities routinely tow legally parked cars that pose no threat to public safety. The actual and consequential costs to California are too high to allow towing to be anything other than a tool to protect the public. By these measures, California’s current policies are not working.

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Stopped, Fined, Arrested: Racial Bias in Policing and Traffic Courts in California

Across the country, low-income people who commit minor offenses are saddled with fines, fees and penalties that pile up, driving them deeper into poverty. What’s worse, they are jailed for nonpayment, increasing the risk of losing their jobs or their homes

This report brings to light a disturbing truth that remains ever present in the lives of Californians: there are dramatic racial disparities in driver’s license suspensions and arrests related to unpaid traffic fines and fees.

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Released April 11, 2016

Not Just a Ferguson Problem: How Traffic Courts Drive Inequality in California

Not Just a Ferguson Problem outlines the many barriers to access that low-income people face in traffic court that lead to indefinite license suspension, and how the process perpetuates cycles of poverty that can be nearly impossible to escape.

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Released April 2015