The letter sent to judges was sent to counter the Trump admin’s push for harder sentences and fines for those who don’t have a ton of money like Trump….
(Obama admin sent same…Trump admin cancelled them)
Some will heed the suggestions….
Some will not….
“Individuals confront escalating debt; face repeated, unnecessary incarceration for nonpayment of fines and fees; experience extended periods of probation and parole; are subjected to changes in immigration status; and lose their employment, driver’s license, voting rights, or home,” the memo said.
Associate Attorney Vanita Gupta, the No. 3 person in the Justice Department whose office sent the letter, said that municipalities are wrongly issuing excessive fines and fees to people without assessing their abilities to pay them, relying on the money collected to fund basic functions of government. The fees often snowball and have resulted in people serving jail time for unpaid traffic tickets or housing code violations.
The letter is intended to serve as guidance for local and state judges and those working in juvenile facilities. It represents the Justice Department’s latest reversal of Trump-era guidance under Attorney General Merrick Garland, who also reversed a charging policy that called for prosecutors to pursue the most serious offenses possible, even when that might trigger stiff mandatory minimum sentences….
“This is the lowest hanging fruit in the criminal justice system,” said Marc Levin, chief policy counsel for Council on Criminal Justice. “Because these are the people who are going to jail not for a new criminal offense, but because they haven’t paid a fee.”
Advocates say that Republican and Democratic states have made progress in getting rid of some burdensome fees — even without the guidance — but added that more work is needed. Most states impose fees to cover court operation costs that are added on top of the fines for committing the violation, according to a report from Fines & Fees Justice Center.
Since the 2016 memo, the Justice Department said that 24 states and D.C. have ended or amended policies that suspend driver’s licenses for unpaid fines and fees.
The effort to reduce court fees and fines is a rare criminal justice effort that has bipartisan support…
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