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SF seeks to eliminate criminal fees keeping people ‘buried in debt’

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Supervisor London Breed speaks during a Martin Luther King Jr. celebration at Yerba Buena Gardens on January 15, 2018. (Sarahbeth Maney/Special to S.F. Examiner)

San Francisco may soon eliminate the fees it imposes on people exiting the criminal justice system under new legislation from Board of Supervisors President London Breed.

Breed is slated to announce the proposal Tuesday to do away with 10 fees that San Francisco charges including for booking, alcohol testing and electronic monitoring. The fees can amount to thousands of dollars per person and trap disadvantaged people in debt.

“Our reentry population needs a fighting chance to turn their lives around and to become thriving members of our communities,” Breed said. “Eliminating our criminal justice fees give them that chance.”

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Though the state would still continue to levy dozens of other fees, San Francisco’s fees alone can cost a person between $2,000 and $5,000, according to Breed’s Legislative Aide Samantha Roxas. The City’s fee for probation costs is $1,800 alone.

Yet, Roxas said The City only collects between 9 percent and 18 percent of the fees it assesses per year, which can amount to less than $1 million annually, because of people’s inability to pay.

“Not only do these fees create barriers to reentry for people who are exiting the criminal justice system, they’re an inefficient source of revenue for The City and are costly to administer,” Breed said.

Breed will announce the legislation alongside Supervisor Malia Cohen, Treasurer Jose Cisneros, Human Rights Commission Director Sheryl Davis and Public Defender Jeff Adachi.

“Fees in a criminal case are the equivalent of payday loans, where they tell you that if you plead guilty, you’ll get out of jail,” Adachi said. “But then they tack on over 50 fees that will keep you buried in debt forever.”

Adachi said people of color are disproportionately affected by the fees.

“These fees are substantial and are primarily leveled on people with very low incomes who cannot afford to pay them,” Adachi said.

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