Criminal Justice Reforms: Should Lawmakers Implement a Court Fee Moratorium?

Aug 11, 2020

Credit MBandman / Flickr, Creative Commons:

Lawmakers are about to arrive in Richmond to start considering a number of criminal justice reforms. One issue that might be on the agenda is a moratorium on court fines and fees.

Courts issue fines and fees for a wide variety of reasons. The average court in Virginia issues about $82 on a per capita basis. But that’s not distributed evenly.

Phil Hernandez at the Commonwealth Institute says courts serving areas with the highest share of Black residents issue fines and fees that are 30% higher.

“No one in this time should be forced to choose between things like paying for rent or food or health care, those sort of essential things that people need, or court debt,” says Hernandez.

That’s why the Commonwealth Institute is calling for a statewide moratorium on court fines and fees. Legal expert Rich Kelsey says that would be a terrible idea. 

“This is about people who have violated the law and had it properly adjudicated before a judge, and the question is there going to be a punishment? And a moratorium on fines is essentially asking us to eliminate punishment,” he explains.

Lawmakers will be back in Richmond next week for a special session to rewrite the budget and consider several proposals to handle criminal justice reform.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.