Information and Resources
FJP Brief on Fines, Fees and the Poverty Penalty
Fines and fees can impose immense burdens on justice-involved individuals, their families, and the governments tasked with collecting them. Instead of advancing public safety and increasing revenue, these charges can increase the likelihood of re-arrest and cost jurisdictions far more than the revenue they bring in. This FJP “Issues at a Glance” brief discusses how fines and fees — and other assessments that disparately impact those in low-income brackets — can harm individuals and their communities and provides concrete recommendations and strategies for prosecutors to address this “poverty penalty” through new policies and practices and legal reform.
FJP Bail Reform Brief
Local prosecutors can help make communities safer and the justice system fairer by supporting the elimination of a money bail system, which penalizes defendants who cannot afford to post bond. Prosecutors should, instead, support a presumption of release where individuals present no risk of flight or danger to the community. This FJP “Issues at a Glance” brief discusses the prosecutor’s role in reforming the money bail system to reduce pretrial incarceration and its potentially counterproductive effect on public safety and recidivism.
Elected Prosecutors File Amicus Brief Urging Appellate Court to Affirm Right to Counsel in Bail Hearings
Legal representation is a fundamental right afforded to every person who must go before a court of law to defend against criminal charges. Yet, in Galveston TX, people every day are denied the right to counsel at one of the most critical stages in the criminal process: the initial bail hearing that determines whether an individual is detained or set free prior to trial. That’s why 44 current and former local elected prosecutors and state attorneys general from across the country filed an amicus curiae brief in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in support of a defendant’s right to counsel at these hearings. They argue that legal representation at critical stages in the justice process is essential to ensuring fairness. Further, they argue that failure to provide an attorney can result in uninformed decision making and serves to erode public trust in the integrity of the criminal justice process, which ultimately harms public safety. For more, read the press release and brief.
“Failure to provide legal counsel at such a critical stage, erodes the public perception that the bail process is fair. And when people remain locked behind bars simply because they don’t have the means to pay for their freedom, trust in the legitimacy of the entire criminal justice system is undermined, resulting in reduced cooperation with law enforcement and prosecutors, and ultimately, harm to public safety.”
– Ingham County, MI Prosecuting Attorney Carol Siemon
California Supreme Court Amicus Brief Calling for an End to Cash Bail
Over 50 current and former prosecutors and law enforcement leaders joined an amicus brief in support of an indigent defendant’s challenge to the constitutionality of California’s money bail system. Amici—which include 26 currently sitting elected prosecutors—argue that money bail systems are not only unconstitutional, but also erode public trust in the justice system, waste taxpayer resources, and lead to tremendous damage to individuals detained based simply on an inability to pay their bail. This position aligns with that advanced by both petitioner, San Francisco DA George Gascon, and the respondent in the case. Read the press release and full brief.
“The Constitution has long stood for the principle that people who would otherwise be eligible for release cannot be incarcerated simply because they are poor.”
– In Re Humphrey Prosecutor and Law Enforcement Amicus Brief
Amicus Brief on the Need for Bail Reform
Nearly 70 current and former elected prosecutors — including 16 current elected DAs and AGs and officials from over 30 states — filed a brief supporting litigation challenging cash bail practices in Harris County, Texas. The brief argues that detaining poor misdemeanor defendants pending trial, solely due to an inability to post bail, erodes community trust and does not further public safety. Read the press release here and the brief here.
“Eliminate Court Fines and Fees That Penalize Poverty”
For many individuals, fines and fees are a weighty burden that can lead to perpetual cycles of debt and incarceration. In a USA Today op-ed, Fines and Fees Justice Center Co-Director Lisa Foster and FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky recount the escalating number and amount of fines and fees in state justice systems over recent years and the perverse incentives that result when jurisdictions use this tax on justice to raise revenue. They encourage elected prosecutors to be advocates for reform and delineate concrete steps DAs can take – including supporting alternative mechanisms to fund courts, advocating for assessing fines and fees on a sliding scale, and eliminating fines and fees for young people.
“California Killed Cash Bail. Now It’s Up To Judges To Determine a Fair Replacement.”
In a Sacramento Bee op-ed about California’s recent elimination of cash bail, FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky and retired Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge LaDoris H. Cordell discuss uncertainties in the law and urge judicial leaders charged with implementation to develop safeguards that will guard against replicating the harms of cash bail.
“To avoid replacing one unjust [bail] system with another, the California judiciary must dedicate itself to presiding over a system that is fair and equal, and that dramatically reduces the population in county jails.”
– Former Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge LaDoris H. Cordell and FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky
“Jailed for Being Too Poor”
From limiting diversion fees to offering meaningful alternatives to counterproductive fines, prosecutors can play an important role in ensuring the criminal justice system promotes public safety and accountability — and doesn’t criminalize poverty or punish the poor — writes FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky in a Huffington Post Op-Ed.
“Prosecutors hold immense authority as justice system leaders. They should use their positions to bring together legislators, law enforcement officials, judges and defense counsel, among others, to work to ensure the justice system advances justice, not cycles of poverty.”
– Fair and Just Prosecution Executive Director Miriam Krinsky
“Bail Reform: Explained”
Read this in-depth analysis from In Justice Today describing the role of bail in the criminal justice system and the ability of prosecutors to reduce reliance on cash bail.
“While judges are the ultimate gatekeepers, prosecutors play an important role in the process and can advocate for bail reform, screen cases early and establish a presumption of recommending release.”
“With Money Bail, System Continues to Criminalize Poverty”
Winnebago County (WI) District Attorney Christian Gossett and FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky discuss concerns with the current money bail system and urge prosecutors to “take responsibility for their role in this damaged system and do what they can to ensure the criminal justice system does not perpetuate the modern-day debtors’ prison.” Read more here.
“What money bail can do is cause people to be incarcerated unnecessarily. This can seriously destabilize people’s lives — and in turn, their families and communities — by causing them to lose their jobs, homes or children.”
– Winnebago County (Oshkosh, WI) District Attorney Christian Gossett and FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky
“For a Fairer System, Kim Foxx Takes a Political Risk”
Chicago Tribune editorial on Cook County (Chicago, IL) State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s decision to limit the use of money bail. Read it here.
“How The Poor Get Locked Up and the Rich Go Free”
Los Angeles Times Editorial Board discusses the problems with cash bail and the efforts in Harris County, Texas and California to move away from cash bail and toward risk-based assessments.