Many have heard of the scathing March 2015 report by the U.S. Department of Justice on the police department of Ferguson, Missouri and the use of fines as a revenue source for the city — fines that are placed disproportionally on people of color via small infractions. Unfortunately, similar methods of municipal financing is occurring in our own state.
A consortium of legal aid organizations: The Western Center on Law and Poverty, the East Bay Community Law Center, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, have produced a report that looks at the impact on families of the policy of using traffic fines. “Not Just a Ferguson Problem: How Traffic Courts Drive Inequality in California,” outlines how the fines have increased significantly since 2006, how the courts often impose the maximum fine and how there is little incentive not to since these fines support the courts, and how the resulting license suspension for not paying results in job loss and, therefore, further inability to pay the fines.
San Francisco has the Second Chance Legal Clinic for people who are in just such a predicament: their license was suspended and they owe exorbitant fines. This clinic also helps people that are barred from employment or housing due to past criminal actions. The East Bay Community Law Center, who also helped with the above report, also has a Clean Slate Clinic.
You can find out about these and other resources at the Alameda County Law Library.