25 signatures reached
To: Las Vegas City Attorney, Las Vegas City Council
STOP Criminalizing Poverty Through Use of Criminal Justice Fines, Fees, and Penalties
In partnership with the NAACP Las Vegas Chapter, we are advocating for criminal justice reforms in Nevada. Too many families are being torn apart simply because they may be economically challenged by municipal court fines, fees, and penalties. Unfortunately, the inability to pay these CIVIL fees, law abiding residents are finding themselves behind bars faced with cash bails they cannot afford. We are conducting a series of community meetings to discuss these issues, and decide on a call to action. This petition kicks off our efforts locally and in preparation for the next legislative session, in hope of influencing legislation to address these issues.
1) Eliminate the use of failure to pay warrants and any associated fees. Develop and implement clear standards for court administrators and judges to determine an individual's ability to pay.
2) Institute a limitation on jail for non-payment.
3) Commission a study to ID alternative funding streams which courts may use to operate to reduce the dependency on revenue collected from fines and fees.
4) Implement a grace period for individuals on a payment plan.
5) Increase the dollar amount credited per hour toward community service requirements.
6) Give a restrictive driver's license to and from work for individuals with a suspended license who maintains their payment plan in good standing.
7) Support legislative efforts to allow car registraton fees to be paid in partial payments instead of one lump sum.
Why is this important?
It Is Time for Clark County to Stop Criminalizing Poverty Through Its Systematic Use of Criminal Justice Fines and Fees.
Courts throughout Clark County, armed with state statutes and local ordinances, have imposed a variety of fines, fees, and assessments that punish the poor for offenses as trivial as jaywalking. Municipal courts in Las Vegas, Henderson, and North Las Vegas, as well as the Las Vegas Justice Center, are tasked with handling traffic violations and misdemeanor offenses. They have used fines and fees to fund their own systems on the backs of those least able to pay for it. They disproportionately harm communities of color, locking them into a cycle of poverty and perpetuating mass incarceration. They also have a uniquely damaging effect on juveniles and their families. Defense attorneys have challenged the fines and fees in court, and advocates and lawmakers have proposed legislation aimed at reducing these injustices. Nevertheless, officials have resisted reforms. It is time for Clark County to stop penalizing the poor through its systematic use of criminal justice fines and fees.
The Las Vegas Criminal Justice System Imposes a Series of Fines and Fees on Anyone Who is charged with a Crime.
● Individuals convicted of crimes—even low-level misdemeanors and traffic violations—often must pay fines, which are monetary penalties meant to punish someone for the crime. The average fine is $300-$400.
● Between 2010 and 2015, the Las Vegas Municipal Court collected $130 million from traffic violations alone. This amounted to approximately 89% of its total revenue, pointing to the troubling reality that the municipal court system has essentially been built on these fines and fees.
● Individuals who are unable to pay the full amount of their debt are given the option of a payment plan, which comes with a $50 fee for financial counseling. Individuals on a payment plan automatically have a warrant issued for their arrest if they miss a payment. The threat of jail time is accompanied by a “warrant fee” that can range from $85-$200 depending on the number of missed payments. The average person goes into warrant at least once. And as time goes on and a defendant continues to miss payments, fees can become exponentially more than the fines. For instance, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that one individual ended up paying $1,500 on a $187 speeding ticket.
● Defendants who are completely unable to pay their fines may do community service. This also comes with a $50 fee. For every hour of community service, there is a $10 credit toward their fines. Using the example above that correlates to 19 hours of community service (almost 3 full time work days), in a community where most people work 2 or 3 part time jobs just to make ends meet.
Excessive Fines and Fees Lock Communities of Color in a Cycle of Poverty and Perpetuate Mass Incarceration.
● In Las Vegas there is currently no official mechanism in place to allow for an individualized determination of a defendant’s ability to pay the fines. As a result, many people leave the justice system with crushing debt that can make it even harder for them to get back on their feet. Or, in many cases, they are jailed for their inability to pay fines as little as $100. In 2014, law enforcement officials arrested over 16,400 people for failing to pay fines for offenses ranging from jaywalking to illegal parallel parking.
● A Las Vegas Review-Journal analysis of nearly 39,000 court payment plans between 2009 and 2015 revealed gross racial and economic disparities in the impact of Las Vegas’s fines and fees, where residents in the poorest areas, who are predominantly black and Latino, owed over six times more than residents in the richest areas. These communities are subject to over policing, resulting in higher rates of violations.
● Nevada statutes also impose a wide array of fines and fees on families and children when children are deemed delinquent. According to the Juvenile Law Center, 76% of Nevada families reported that they were unable to pay. Failure to make these payments plunge families into debt, increases the need for court appearances causing children and family members to take time away from school and work, and risks incarceration for juvenile offenders. The impact of these fines and fees have the perverse effect of leaving families worse off, and feed the school to prison pipeline at disproportionate rates. Let's keep families together and stop criminalizing the poor.