Criminal Justice

Report Urges CA to Dump Private Agencies That Collect on Criminal Justice System-Related Debts

Taylor Walker
Written by Taylor Walker

California’s system of criminal fines and fees, and its use of under-regulated private debt collection services to collect those fees, place an outsized burden on low income residents and communities of color, according to a report from the California Reinvestment Coalition.

California has a total of 684 criminal justice penalties. Statewide, nearly two-thirds of adults arrested, and hit with those justice system fines are people of color. Neighborhoods of color are over-policed, the report says, and black and Latino people face higher traffic stop rates than their white counterparts.

The report calls for a “full overhaul” of a system that ensnares people who are unable to pay their traffic and criminal justice system fees, whose “accumulated debt can spiral out of control,” and lead to unnecessary incarceration.

These debt collectors make between 12 to 18 percent for new debts, and 15 to 26 percent commissions on debt that is over five years old.

CRC researchers looked at the practices of 17 counties, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Alameda, and San Bernardino, and found that just one county’s debt collector contract included a code of ethics.

The City and County of San Francisco recently eliminated fees charged to people involved with the criminal justice system making SF the first jurisdiction in the country to ban such fees, which include charges for electronic monitoring ($35 per day), jail booking, and probation ($50 per month). These fees, according to the ordinance, and to the city’s new mayor, London Breed, saddle low-income residents with unnecessary debt and increase the likelihood that people on probation will return to lock-up.

While the ordinance is not a cure-all (SF still must charge mandatory state fines), the SF Supervisors hope their action will inspire other jurisdictions in California and across the nation.

“Both counties and state-wide governments need to take steps to ensure that revenue is not being made off the backs of those who can afford it least,” says Aila Ferguson, Legal Fellow at the ACLU of Southern California. “It is heartening to see the progress that has been made in reforming our criminal justice system, but fines and fees must be abolished so that counties are not looking to raise revenue from those who can afford it least.”

Although counties intend to generate income by utilizing debt collectors, researchers found that squeezing the state’s low-income residents for cash isn’t exactly a cash cow.

“The amount collected is minuscule,” says Paulina Maqueda Escamilla, Researcher at the California Reinvestment Coalition. “Private debt collectors are incentivized to collect from poor people and people of color by any means possible, walking away with most of what is paid.”

For example, Los Angeles, a county that has a total annual revenue of $15 billion, pulls in less than half a percent of that revenue from privately collected debt. Most of the other 16 counties made even less. Alameda scraped .21 percent from debt collections, and Monterey County made .05 percent of total revenue from collections.

The report urges California officials to stop using third-party debt collectors, and to increase transparency surrounding the collection of debts.

“Lack of regulation for private debt collectors for collecting on these types of debt is inherently problematic,” Escamilla says. “Why do private debt collectors get to play by a different set of rules, especially when little of what they collect on is returned to the county?”

The researchers also call on the state and counties to launch “ability-to-pay” evaluations across all court systems, and to dump debt that’s more than five years old.

“This would most benefit those who cannot afford to pay these debts, nor deal with
the consequences from private debt collectors trying to collect,” the report says. “This would also save money for counties and their courts, who currently try to collect debt that is unlikely to be paid.”

9 Comments

  • The US Supreme Court continues enforcing the US Constitution, today’s ruling, unions cannot continue stealing money without the worker’s consent, and to chose whether a worker wants to be a member of the union. The liberal judges, the social justice warriors, of course, feel the worker should be forced into a union, and pay for it, mafia style.

    • Unions have been usually good to theAmerican workers, however when cheating occurs within, along with limited say-so on where the dues are going and how it’s spent, it is a no brainer to chop their hands. ALADS is the poster child of a union running amok with millions of dollars over the years being unaccounted for. Go figure.

      • You are right ALADS is a prime example. Last month the showed their true colors when because of their own political bias, refused to follow the membership desire to support Bob Lindsey for sheriff. They demanded 33% of the membership vote to make it valid, knowing well, it was impossible. It should be known, that for contract ratification, and board members elected, they only require a simple majority vote which is usually less than 15% of the membership.

        I hope the 1400 deputies whose voices were ignored by ALADS, now stick it to them, by submitting drop cards and joining LASPA legal representation, or other legal representation, that is better than ALADS and LASPA. 1400 deputies at 102.42 per month that is $143,388 per month less for ALADS.

        • Go no further than LASPA or you can get full individual local and legal representation for $30.00 monthly at http://www.copslegal.com

          ALADS has screwed over more deputies than the department has. Good riddance to the rip-off gangsters who got rich off of forced membership.

        • I know this is totally off topic with regards to the article, but agree that unions like ALADS have been so far off course a change was needed. When the union is filled with talkers and folks who aren’t really ready to fight the fight against their meal ticket you get a pathetic, weak union that no one except for a few have faith in. If you were lucky and ALADS thought you were worthy and ranked having them take your case and fight, things were good, however if your case (or you for that matter) weren’t deemed worthy, you were required to still pay monthly dues but left dangling defenseless in the wind.

          This mess has been perpetuated by numerous ALADS boards since most were trying to get a good deal while holding office and ensure a soft landing somewhere once their term was up. Not a system where you can expect the union leadership to go all out for its members due to ther fear of the big “R”…….. retaliation or promise of a good gig.

          Maybe this will be a wake up call for ALADS and other unions that have lost sight of their charter…to represent their members and their interests to fullest.

          • Conspiracy, forgive me, but I think the comments are right on topic, the most liberal, justice fighting state in the nation, California, screws its own citizens for financial gain, just like the unions, do, under the false pretense of justice. The California justice system, that is supposed to be just, screws its citizens, by exorbitant fines and fees, usually its poorest residents.

            A speeding ticket, driving school, court fees, etc amount to hundreds of dollars in JUST California. Compare to the most conservative, UNJUST states, like Texas or Arizona and those fees, are half of what they are in JUST California. Again, the liberal Justice Warriors at work…

  • Joe NoBuckels…I agree totally, progressive/socialist Democrats like the ones in power in this state (unlike the now-extinct moderate Democrats) believe the way to balance budgets, get votes and remain in power are by the imposition of “small taxes”. The most recent progressive/socialist Democrats con that was done without fanfare and under the cover of darkness was increasing the gas and dmv registration tax (even though we pay some of the highest tax in that respect already for the supposed benefit of our roads) by executive decree no less, you don’t let the people have any say because “you know what’s best for them”. By deceptive wording you pull at peoples heartstrings and put ballot initiatives for taxes to build housing for the homeless and avoid the real issue which is the need for housing for the mentaly ill. A few cents here and a few cents there adds up while at the same time middle class families can barely afford to live in cities like LA and San Francisco. All the while progresdive/socialist Democrats just sit back and continue to add further economic assaults on the backs of the middle class (the breadth of the bell curve) to pay for their social re-engineering pet projects. Do they ever ask themselves who is going to foot the bill for free medical care, higher education, the additional droves of people who come in if we have open borders and all the other social programs they can dream up. Somebody has actually had to go to work to pay the bills. Oh yeah that’s right, it’s the patsy, dup left holding the bill which is the average, law abiding, middle class working tax payer.

    Can’t forget about the $77+ Billion dollar with a “B” high speed train nobody except Governor Brown, his cronies and special interest groups want.

  • @ Joe NoBuckles: Any deputies from your camp getting the word out, re information for deputies to drop ALADS and getting any monies refunded to them. Of course ALADS will not do it. No more complaints about ALADS, just action. Hopefully all those who oppose ALADS tactics and greed should be the first in line. Get the word out. Too bad it took the Janus case to get the attention of unions to listen to their people. Good riddance.

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