Ending Debtors' Prison
In a recent policy paper the Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA) recommends policies and practices that courts can adopt to reduce the negative impact that fines and fees have on those unable to pay.
“We are making every effort to advocate for policies that are effective and just, but we cannot do it alone,” said Martin Hoshino, Administrative Director of the Judicial Council of California and member of the COSCA committee that issued the report.
“Real reform will come about when all three branches of government work together to create change.”
–Administrative Director Martin Hoshino
Hoshino was directed to participate on the committee by Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye.
The Chief Justice is a member of a national task force developing tools and resources that assist state court leaders in engaging marginalized and disenfranchised communities to ensure equal access to justice for all, and to improve the trust and confidence those communities have in state courts. In her 2016 State of the Judiciary Address the Chief Justice called attention to the unfairness of fines and fees funding structure and the need for a three-branch solution to address its inequities.
Last February she directed Hoshino to participate on the National Task Force on Fines, Fees and Bail Practices, a group made up of judicial leaders, legal advocates and policy makers whose goal is to tackle the same issues COSCA has addressed in its policy paper.
The administrators evaluate the ways in which fines and fees are imposed and collected nationwide and how failure to pay such fees can lead to significant consequences, including incarceration, exorbitant debt, and the revocation of driver’s licenses.
The administrators outline effective policies that some state and local courts have adopted to minimize the negative impact of fines. They also propose best practices for state and municipal courts, such as streamlining the ability of courts to assess ability to pay; implementing evidence-based practices that reduce failure to appear and improve compliance with court orders; eliminating the use of private probation companies; and expanding options to satisfy court debt such as community service.