Local fines and fees are common tools to disincentivize behavior and supplement public budgets. However, in 2016, the city and county of San Francisco realized that leveraging these tools had unintended consequences: pushing residents into, or further into, poverty. In response, the city launched the San Francisco Financial Justice Project, and from it convened the San Francisco Fines and Fees Task Force, to assess and reform how fines and fees impact its most vulnerable residents.
In 2017, the task force released over 30 recommended reforms across six policy areas, including reforms targeting traffic and criminal justice fines and fees, and child support debt owed to the government. Today, the project has successfully launched and implemented policy and administrative changes across the city and county of San Francisco that hold people accountable but do not push them into financial distress. For example, San Francisco is eliminating all locally controlled administrative fees charged to people exiting the criminal justice system. The project has also worked with the San Francisco courts to base fines and fees on people’s ability to pay.