The criminalization of poverty results in mounting collateral consequences that disproportionately impact poor people.
Since 1999, the number of criminal court fees in North Carolina has increased from 4 to 45 and the base cost for use of court has increased from $61 to $173. Many of these fees are unaffordable for many North Carolinians and lead to financial hardship as well as Driver’s License suspension, extended community supervision, and sometimes incarceration.
The NC court system consistently assesses court costs, fines, and fees when the person being charged is unable to pay. The system then punishes them for not paying, by imposing more charges and more severe sanctions, such as jail time, probation extension, and license revocation. This results in mounting collateral consequences that disproportionately impact poor people.
As a part of our fight to protect poor people and people of color from the exploitation inherent in the criminalization of poverty, Forward Justice became an anchor organization for the North Carolina Fines and Fees Coalition. A group of community members, attorneys, and researchers across North Carolina-based organizations, dedicated to ending the practice of funding court systems off the backs of those least able to pay.
Here's What We're Doing:
In February, The North Carolina Fines and Fees Coalition and the Aspen Institute Financial Security Program convened a group of community members, advocates, and decision makers, along with local and national leaders, for a two-day convening that centered on the stories of those who were directly impacted by the current policies. The event aimed to identify actionable, evidence-based solutions that address the harmful impacts of court fines and fees and highlight innovative ideas to implement change in North Carolina. Over 100 people from across the state of North Carolina attended the event.
In May, we held a virtual followup event to discuss the impact that COVID-19 has had on individuals’ ability to pay court fines and fees, and highlighted ways to advocate for recovery and relief efforts that address the issue. The coalition has also been engaging in advocacy efforts with state and local officials requesting financial relief be provided from fines and fees in the wake of the ongoing pandemic.
Forward Justice facilitates monthly meetings with the NC Fines and Fees Coalition to discuss and implement effective advocacy strategies to address the unnecessary costs, fines, and fees in the criminal court system.