The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to consider whether some fees, fines and penalties charged by the criminal justice system should be eliminated.
Supervisors Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl, who co-authored a motion requesting a study, cited research showing that accumulated fees can push people into poverty and disproportionately impact people of color.
"The purpose of our justice system is for people to pay their dues... not to continually punish those who have already paid their debt to society," Solis said, noting that some people are jailed for not paying fines.
Kuehl said that hidden fees can cripple someone's chances to get back on track, find a job and re-establish a place in their community.
"We thought that the United States outlawed debtor's prison in 1833, but did they really?" Kuehl asked.
The board voted last May to discontinue collection of fees charged for keeping juvenile offenders in detention and forgive existing debts related to those fees. The supervisors also asked the Probation Department to report back with a list of fees collected by the county for probation supervision and services for adults and minors.
That list includes dozens of fees covering everything from jail booking costs to copayments for medical visits in jail. It also covers victims' restitution fees and assessments related to court construction and AIDS education.
Solis and Kuehl said a survey by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights found that women end up paying more than 80 percent of all fees -- sometimes taking responsibility for charges incurred by other family members -- making the issue one of equity.
One young offender told the board that his mom paid for his mistakes.
"I really didn't understand that my mom was paying these things until I came home and she showed me the receipts," the young man said.
Kim McGill of the Youth Justice Coalition said the county cost to collect some of these fees exceeds revenues.
She began reading the long list of types of fines, fees and penalties, calling some "fees that are made up only to extract money from the poorest (residents)."
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas called the system of fees "tantamount to criminalizing poverty."
The board directed staffers to undertake a feasibility study of eliminating fees under the county's discretion, the related revenues and costs of collection, and a proposed timeline for implementation.