Targeting the Poor

The Brennan Center reports:

The Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights [LCCR] published a report documenting the ways that California’s traffic fines disproportionately affect Blacks and Latinos, writes Tanasia Kenney for the Atlanta Black Star. According to Kenney, Californians who cannot afford to pay traffic fines are subject to “license suspension, arrest, jail time, wage garnishment, towing of their vehicles and even job loss.” The report finds that as a result, “African-American residents are four-to-16 times more likely to be booked into jail on a failure-to-pay-related charge.” The report argues that “[p]unishing people for failure to pay is doubling down on the racial bias in the system,” because, as LCCR legal director Elisa Della-Piana describes, “people of color, especially Black people, are more likely to get pulled over.” California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) previously sought to address the problem with a temporary program that “slashed fines on pre-2013 traffic tickets by 80 percent for poorer applicants and allowed affected drivers to set up payment plans to get their licenses back.” For reasons that really make no sense the program, however, expired last month. Earlier this year, State Sen. Robert Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) introduced a bill that would “ban the courts from automatically stripping drivers of their license for failure to pay” and “force judges to consider a resident’s ability to pay before slapping them with hefty fines and fees.”

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