State contradicts itself with refusal to reform bail while it levies the most court fines, fees



Rome Sentinel Co.


Reprinted from the Jamestown Post-Journal via The Associated Press. Is anyone who lives in New York state shocked by a recent report showing the Empire State tops the nation in the amount of fines and fees levied by state and local government? We’re not. According to a recently released report by the Reason Foundation, New York state and its local governments collected more than $1.4 billion in 2020. That means each person, on average, paid fines averaging $69.60 — more than the fines and fees paid in California, Texas and Illinois. “The primary responsibilities of the legal system are to promote public safety and to provide for justice,” they wrote. “Pressure to raise revenue, at best, undermines and, at worst, directly conflicts with those responsibilities.” Kiantone ($37 per capita), North Harmony ($93 per capita), Stockton ($39 per capita), the town of Westfield ($26 per capita), Portland ($21 per capita), the town of Dunkirk ($110 per capita) and the town of Sheridan ($68 per capita). In each local municipality fine and fee revenue equaled at least 5% of that government’s yearly operating revenue. The report’s authors said while there are legitimate uses for fines and fees in the criminal justice system, they can become “exploitative” when governments rely on law enforcement as an essential source of revenue. Fines, and particularly the fees levied on top of the fines, can hit the poor much harder than they hit the middle class and lead to further issues down the road. The foundation made several recommendations, including eliminating many user fees and fines that penalize people for late payments, providing alternatives to monetary fines, fully funding court systems through state budgets and requiring states and local governments to publish information about fines and fees. There should be alternative means of dealing with fines and fees, including work programs as have been tried in Virginia. Courts should do a better job of assessing a person’s ability to pay fines so that individuals are treated equally under the law. Defendants should be made aware of such factors and what documentation they will be expected to provide. This isn’t about leniency — it’s about fairness. Those convicted of crimes should pay a just penalty. Fines and fees can be a deterrent, but it’s impossible to get blood from a turnip. The only difference between the arguments made by New York’s bail reform crowd in 2019 and the argument made by the Reason Foundation to rein in court fines and fees comes down to money. Bail reformers sounded their trumpets loudly in 2019 when they felt too many people were wrongly held in jail because they were too poor to pay bail. They’re playing muted kazoos when it comes to protecting those same people by taking money out of government’s pockets.