The East Bay Community Law Center said on Sept. 12 that it is seeking to convince Alameda County officials to eliminate administrative fees for people who are convicted of crimes.
The law center, a Berkeley-based legal services provider that serves low-income residents in the county, says Alameda County will become only the second county in the U.S. to eliminate such fees if it takes that step.
The issue will be discussed at the board of supervisors’ Public Protection Committee meeting at the county administration building at 1221 Oak St. in Oakland at 10 a.m. on Sept. 13.
East Bay Community Law Center staff attorney and Clinical Supervisor Brandon Greene said on Sept. 12 that if the committee votes on Sept. 13 in favor of eliminating the administrative fees the matter will go to the board of supervisors in October for final approval.
The law center says the Probation Department, Office of the Alameda County Public Defender and the Sheriff’s Office assess what it describes as “insurmountable fees” on people who are convicted of criminal offenses.
As an example, it says defendants in Alameda County are charged probation supervision fees of up to $90 per month and pre-charge investigation report costs of $710.
The law center alleges in a news release that “criminal justice fees in Alameda County are causing high pain for families and low gain for local county government.”
Greene said, “This is not only a fiscal and good governance issue but also a racial justice issue” because the fees disproportionately affect black people, who he said are frequently stopped by the police and “are overburdened by housing costs, lower-than-average wages, and the disastrous
impacts of gentrification.”
He said, “This confluence of issues results in the most marginalized communities being the ones most impacted by court-ordered debt that they cannot afford to pay.”
Theresa Zhen, another staff attorney and clinical supervisor at the center, said, “The East Bay Community Law Center has represented countless individuals who want a clean start but are unable to get out from underneath the pile of debt imposed by criminal justice administration fees.”
Zhen said, “A repeal of fees and discharge of outstanding debt would be an important step towards true debt-free justice in Alameda County.”
Sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Ray Kelly said on Sept. 12 that his office won’t support the proposal to eliminate the fees “unless some alternative can be approved by the county to fund the programs we facilitate.”
Kelly said, “We already charge very minimal service fees as compared to other counties.”
The law center said that in 2016 Alameda County eliminated juvenile fees and fines, which led to the passage of a bill that made California the first state in the country to eliminate court fees and fines for juveniles.
The law center said its current campaign would eliminate adult fines and fees in Alameda County.
The center said it has also convened a statewide coalition to end adult criminal justice fees throughout California.
By Jeff Shuttleworth