BY ALEJANDRA O’CONNELL-DOMENECH | With Lower Manhattan’s courthouses as his backdrop, Comptroller Scott Stringer called for an end to mandatory court surcharges and fees as the next step on the city’s path toward criminal justice reform.
“We are setting our sights on the new frontier of the decarceration movement,” Stringer said at a press conference at Foley Square on Tues., Sept. 10. The comptroller addressed the media less than a week after the City Council held a public hearing on the replacement of Rikers Island with four borough-based jails.
That day, Stringer released a report, “Fees, Fines and Fairness: How Monetary Charges Drive Inequity,” which outlines how the formerly incarcerated and their families can be “saddled with outstanding debt,” even before a prison sentence is served.
“They do their time and they end up even more poor than when they went in,” Stringer said of formerly incarcerated New Yorkers.
“It makes zero sense to me that, when we have people sentenced and already paid a fine, who are already serving time, to lay on these surcharges,” he added. “It means basically that they can never come out of poverty, they can never help their families.”
According to the report, in 2017 the formerly incarcerated in New York had to pay $20 million in court fees.
In New York State, mandatory surcharges and fees of up to $375 can be imposed on those convicted of or pleading guilty to a crime, according to the report. The report highlights, though, that the majority of funds gathered in New York City courts are for “non-criminal violations and non-DUI traffic violations.”
Besides calling for an end to mandatory surcharges, the comptroller’s report calls for forgiving outstanding court debt, ending incarceration for unpaid court debt, ending driver’s license suspensions for unpaid fines and ending parole and probation supervision fees, among other things. In New York, parolees are required to pay $30 a month in administration fees, the report notes.
Although Stringer commended legislators in Albany for bail reforms made this year and the city for eliminating telephone call fees for the incarcerated, he called on lawmakers also to take further action to eliminate money-transfer fees.