Advocates call on NYS to stop putting a price on justice

October 16, 2021

Originally published in WRBG Channel 6 Albany News on October 13, 2021.

ALBANY (WRGB) - - - State lawmakers, advocates, and more are looking to the state to end its reliance on court fees, something they say traps millions of low-income residents in a vicious cycle of debt and punishment.

A rally calling for the passage of the End of Predatory Court Fees Act was held Wednesday morning ahead of a Senate hearing on the topic. It’s always difficult to quantify the likelihood of it passing, but I am really confident that we will be able to pass this legislation in a matter of time particularly because we have steadily gained cosponsors in both houses and we aren’t seeing strong opposition. I think it’s common-sense legislation," stated Sen. Julia Salazar, Sponsor of the End Predatory Court Fees Act and Chair of the Senate Corrections Committee.

The End Predatory Court Fees Act would eliminate court, parole, and probation fees, mandatory minimum fines, incarceration on the basis of unpaid fines and fees, and garnishment of commissary accounts for unpaid fines and fees. 

Advocates say the need is urgent and it’s time for New York State to stop putting a price on justice.

I have gone into credit card debt; I work overtime and take on extra jobs when I can. My recent stimulus check from the federal government went straight to New York court system. Every time I pay these bills, I can feel myself breathe a little easier...but it shouldn’t have to be this way," said Advocate Peggy Herrera. Advocates say momentum is building in numerous states and municipalities around the U.S. for similar reforms. Last year, California passed the most far-reaching fee elimination reforms to date - ending the collection of 23 fees charged to people in the criminal justice system — such as probation, parole, and local booking fees — and forgiving $16 billion in court debt. Earlier this month, California’s legislature approved eliminating another 17 fees and discharging another $534 million in court debt.