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SF abolishes criminal justice fees

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The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved legislation eliminating most city fines and fees for those arrested and jailed. (Mike Koozmin/2015 S.F. Examiner)

Gone are the days of San Francisco nickel-and-diming those arrested and jailed.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved legislation Tuesday eliminating criminal justice fees for incarceration, probation, penalty assessments and electronic monitoring.

Supporters say the legislation, introduced by Board President London Breed, makes San Francisco the first city and county in the nation to eliminate all criminal justice administrative fees authorized by local government.

The proposal is backed by the Office of the Treasurer’s Financial Justice Project, in collaboration with the Public Defender’s Office and Mayor’s Budget Office, which issued a report Tuesday on the fees.

“People exiting the criminal justice system can be assessed dozens of fines and fees that can add up to thousands of dollars,” the report said. “Over the last six years, over 20,000 individuals have accumulated more than $15 million in unpaid debt from locally authorized fees.”

The fees are intended to cover government costs, but they are often not collected since most of those charged are low-income. “The collection rates on these fees are very low, averaging seventeen percent across these locally authorized fees, simply because people cannot afford to pay them,” the report said.

Critics of the fees, like Debt Free SF coalition, “decried how many San Franciscans were struggling to pay these fees, and the barriers they created for people struggling to get back on their feet.”

The fees abolished include one for $50 a month from Adult Probation, which ends up costing $1,800 during an average three-year probation period.

Other fees abolished include charges for electronic ankle monitoring, which had reached up to $35 a day after an initial $125 sign up fee. Sheriff Vicki Hennessy announced earlier this year she had done away with these fees, about two years after Supervisor Jane Kim and thenSupervisor John Avalos had criticized the practice.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to reflect that the legislation applies only to administrative fees and not to punitive fines.

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