The Judicial Council of California has been awarded $488,000 by the U.S. Department of Justice to study and identify issues related to defendants’ inability to pay fines and fees. The grant would include the development of an ability-to-pay calculator.

The Judicial Council is one of four state court entities to receive the funding from the program.

The grant comes in the wake of Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye’s efforts to address the issue in her 2016 State of Judiciary before the state Legislature.  She also directed Administrative Director Martin Hoshino to join a national task force that is studying the issue.

“The Chief Justice and the council realize the impact that fines and fees have on our communities,” Hoshino said. “Receiving this grant will help us develop new practices that are fair, effective, and just.”

Money from the grant will be dispersed over the next three years. A work group appointed by the Judicial Council will study existing practices related to criminal fines and fees and identify strategies for addressing issues related to an inability to pay them. Their work will be informed by a companion study of jail populations in three pilot sites to identify the prevalence and incidence of jail use associated with failures to pay. The project will also develop an ability-to-pay calculator to study the impact of the calculator on license suspensions and court-ordered debt amounts.

The Judicial Council will partner with the Center for Court Innovation, which will provide training and technical assistance to the council.