From Ferguson to Fresno, millions of individuals and families across the country are being unfairly punished for being too poor to pay traffic and infraction tickets for minor violations such as jaywalking or expired registration tags. And the price they most often pay, driver license suspension, releases a cascade of problems that drive them deeper into the clutches of poverty, frequently lead to incarceration, and prevent them from participating in and contributing to their communities.
A new study released by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, Paying More for Being Poor: Bias and Disparity in California’s Traffic Court System, shows that Californians pay some of the highest fines and fees in the country – more than three times the national average for running a red light. The high fines and fees create hardships for many middle-class Californians, but they can be devastating to Californians with lower incomes. And new Bay Area data reveals that African-Americans are four to sixteen times more likely to be booked into county jail on a charge related to inability to pay a citation.
California has the opportunity to create permanent reforms to this inequitable system. In Governor Jerry Brown’s budget, he proposes to put an end to suspending driver licenses just because someone cannot afford to pay. And two bills before the California Legislature (SB 185 and AB 412) would address many of the disparities documented in Paying More for Being Poor.