Alexes Harris: Fines and fees are a pound of flesh for poor people

Steven Long and his attorney Ali Bilow after a State Court of Appeals hearing in Seattle on Nov. 7, 2019. Long took the city of Seattle to court when the truck he was living in was impounded. His case is now before the Washington state Supreme Court.

For the past 13 years, I have researched the system of fines and fees, also called monetary sanctions. Research finds that when people are too poor to pay, their families, children and communities are harmed. This system affects individuals’ abilities to attain wealth, educational certification and degrees, maintain stable and safe housing, build credit and wealth, and even affects abilities to sustain employment. People can lose their driver’s licenses as well. This means they cannot bring their children to and from school and child care, and ironically, people are unable to get to their jobs to raise the money to pay their fines and fees.

In a recent report, my colleague and I found that for all types of cases filed in Seattle Municipal Court (SMC) in 2017, people of color are ordered fines and fees more frequently than white people in Seattle. Our analysis also shows that drivers of color, and in particular Black drivers, are far more likely than non-Black drivers to be charged with driving with a license suspended in the third degree following an SMC LFO (legal financial obligation). This implies that because of their inability to pay traffic citations, people of color are losing their ability to drive.

Continue reading Alexes Harris' op-ed at the Seattle Times

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