Thank you to everyone who attended our meeting on criminal justice fines and fees. We had an energizing discussion about a very serious problem.
Here is some brief background information on the topic: While the Nevada constitution mandates funding our court system, it is silent on how to generate the funding.
Currently, the state generates a portion of this funding from fines and fees paid by Nevada residents. The thinking behind this is that people who interact with the courts should largely pay for associated services, and if someone wishes to opt out of paying, simply abstain from activities covered by the courts.
The Nevada Independent’s Megan Messerly covered testimony from Nevada Supreme Court Justice James Hardesty at a legislative budget hearing on January 26, 2017, on this topic.
You can listen to the testimony here: http://nvleg.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=14&clip_id=6424
Fast forward to the Administrative Assessments slide, which is at 1 hour and 50 minutes.
The problem with this underlying reasoning is that it ignores how poverty and mental illness can force individuals into the criminal justice system with little power to extricate themselves. When a person is already living at the margins, and could possibly require medical attention, it can be very difficult to avoid fines and the fees assessed when fines go unpaid.
And once someone becomes locked into a cycle of fines and fees assessed for failure to pay fines, it can be very difficult to escape going to jail. (It should be noted that sending someone to jail increases the system’s costs.)
And sadly, if our courts continue to be funded with fines and fees, there will be a perverse incentive to not take hardships, mental illness, and various other mitigating issues into consideration. Not because our judicial branch employees are unethical, but because we have put them into an impossible situation.
We therefore decided to pursue this issue further to better understand the scope of the problem as well as to investigate ways we can fund our courts apart from fines and associated fees.
Anyone interested in becoming more involved with this issue and anyone who has reports, data, or other information on this topic, please email your interest and/or send your resources to firstname.lastname@example.org Put “Fines and Fees” in the subject line.
Additionally, our League’s annual planning meeting, during which we lay out projects for the 2017-2018 year, will be on August 5th. I will put this topic on the agenda.
If you are interested in attending, when the invitation to attend goes out to the membership, please RSVP. Most likely it will start at 10am and will be at the University United Methodist Church at 4412 S. Maryland Parkway.
Our next regular League community meeting will be September 16th; until then stay in the loop by liking us on Facebook, following us on Twitter, and subscribing to our blog.
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