Stephen Ellison

Contra Costa County Halts Inmate Administrative Court Fees

Under pressure from inmate advocates, Contra Costa County has approved a temporary moratorium on certain administrative court fees such as those related to fingerprints, drug tests, ankle monitoring and booking.

But the move comes at a big cost to the county.

After getting an earful from inmate advocates the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors put a temporary halt to the court fees.

"We see these fees fall heavily on families, and they have a disproportionate impact on people of color and impoverished communities," county Public Defender Ellen McDonnell said.

Former inmate Oscar Flores knows all too well how tough it is to have such a financial burden immediately after getting out of jail. He served jail time in two Bay Area counties for weapons offenses. But once released, he was slapped with thousands of dollars in administrative fees he said pushed him back to crime.

"We are humans. So, as humans when we come out of prison or jail, we want to take care of ourselves and family," Flores said. "When I knew I had to pay the fees, I ended up resorting to the underground economy to support. I was working, but it wasn’t enough to pay those fees."

Supervisor John Gioia said it's a good but costly move.

"It’s a step closer to making the system more fair and equitable," Gioia said. "But the moratorium will come at a cost. The fees generate $1.8 million a year for the county."

Supervisor Karen Mitchoff said that loss will impact other programs.

"That takes away from other citizens in the county who also need services," she said.

But inmate advocates said it’s a small price to pay to fix a system they say unfairly penalizes the poor.

"The court system is trying to make up for the shortfall in our budgets with the people who have the least amount of money," said Cheryl Sudduth of the Contra Costa Racial Justice Coalition.

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