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East Bay Community Law Center (EBCLC) is a non-profit legal services organization, the community-based clinical program for U.C. Berkeley Law School, and one of the Bay Area’s largest and most effective systems disrupters.  With a dual service and teaching mission, EBCLC is a racial justice organization committed to increasing justice through education and advocacy and […]

California Is Considering Ending Criminal Court Fees and Wiping Out Billions in Debt

Three years ago, during Brandon Greene’s first week working as a lawyer in a new clinic affiliated with the East Bay Community Law Center, he was handed a stack of cases to review. Each involved a client who was struggling to pay down the fines and fees that easily accumulate in California’s criminal justice system. It was his job to help. A handful of the cases were so old that he couldn’t find current contact information for the clients. He quickly realized that “some of those folks,” even if he did reach them, “could not get back on their feet at all”  because of their debt. “The folks who were being affected were mostly indigent,” he said. “Everything costs money. Every program costs money. And a lot of folks can’t afford to pay these things.”

I Served My Prison Time. Why Do I Still Have to Pay?

Theresa Zhen, a staff attorney at the East Bay Community Law Center in Berkeley, who is helping coordinate the advocacy effort for SB144, is already declaring victory. “The fact that even the opposition to the bill admits that it’s philosophically right is huge,” she said. “We’re finally having the real conversation: that courts have been built on the backs of the poor.”

By Forgiving Warrants and Fines, Communities Give People a Fresh Start

A 2016 study in California from the East Bay Community Law Center found that license suspensions for failing to pay fines or appear in court are “directly correlated with poverty indicators and with race,” with driver’s license suspension rates ranging as high as five times the state average in communities that are primarily Black or Latino.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Today, Senate Bill 144, introduced by Senator Holly J. Mitchell, was amended with text that will end the assessment and collection of administrative fees imposed against people in the criminal justice system

By doing so, it would dramatically reduce the economic hardships caused by court-ordered debt and enhance the economic security of system-involved populations, their families and their communities. SB 144 will usher in an era of criminal justice policy that does not rely on stripping wealth from communities of color and low-income communities.

Alameda County Supervisors End Assessment of Criminal Justice Fees

Following the lead of San Francisco County’s June 2018 decision and building on more than two years of advocacy on the part of the East Bay Community Law Center (EBCLC) and Debt Free Justice California coalition partners, Alameda County ceased the assessment and collection of fees for probation supervision, investigation reports, participation in the Sheriff’s Work Alternative Program, and many more fees that extract wealth from low-income communities of color. In past years, the average adult on probation in Alameda County has faced over $6,000 in fees. The new policy, along with the discharge of existing debt, will go into effect on January 4, 2019.

Eliminating criminal justice fees is a moral imperative for the Alameda Board of Supervisors

The board should vote yes on repeal and discharge because its most vulnerable constituents are being exploited for money they simply do not have. As detailed in EBCLC’s recent report, “Pay or Prey: How the Alameda County Criminal Justice System Extracts Wealth from Marginalized Communities,” the ripple effects of these debts are immense and reinforce systems of cyclical poverty, with families usually paying a significant price for their loved ones criminal justice debts.