Los Angeles County Eliminates Criminal Fees

Sheila Kuehl

Last week, the LA County Board of Supervisors unanimously adopted a motion co-authored by Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis “to end the imposition of oppressive administrative fees imposed in LA County’s justice system.” The vote was taken after testimony from dozens of formerly incarcerated residents. In Malibu, anyone arrested and jailed by the sheriff’s department might have been subject to these fees.

The Board of Supes’ Take 5 newsletter explained that currently, California law allows counties to charge administrative fees to individuals in the criminal justice system on top of the fines they may owe for the action that led to their prosecution. These levies help counties pay for their actual costs, but more often serve as punishments. When administrative fees are added to base fines, it makes LA County criminal fees some of the highest in the country, sometimes amounting to thousands of dollars for a single conviction. These fines must be paid upon release, causing many jailed individuals to spend all the money they have at a time when they need it for housing, transportation and finding employment—causing a significant barrier to re-entry.

Furthermore, the administration fees don’t actually help LA County, because the county spends so much on collections efforts that only yield about nine percent of the outstanding fees each year. The new county ordinance makes old administrative fees uncollectible.

“These fees do nothing to enhance public safety or meaningfully contribute to the public coffer; they simply make it more difficult for women and men released from jail to re-establish stable, law-abiding lives,” Kuehl said in a written statement.

LA county is the fourth in California to eliminate the fees—after San Francisco, Alameda and Contra Costa counties. If bill SB 144 introduced in the state senate is approved, the rest of California could soon follow.

According to Cal Matters, the fees that Los Angeles will no longer collect include $155 per month for probation supervision, $769 for a pre-sentence report and $50 for frequent alcohol testing and legal counsel fees that can add up to hundreds of dollars.