It’s Time For Action To End Chicago’s Draconian Fees and Fines Practices

While the question raised in recent studies of whether or not the City of Chicago is disproportionately writing tickets in poorer communities is an important one which needs comprehensive answers, a larger problem is that fees and fines are spreading when Chicagoans, like the majority of Americans, can least afford them. A total of 48 states have increased their fees and fines court since 2010. Local governments have increasingly turned to fees and fines since the Great Recession. Yet, at the same time as cities reach into the pockets of its citizens for fees revenue, almost half of all Americans lack the savings to cover a $400 emergency expense. Shame on the City for designing budgets that are increasingly reliant (now 7% in Chicago) on such regressive revenue generating measures.

Excessive fees and fines that exceed people’s ability to pay create unnecessary barriers to employment, mobility, and opportunity. When people cannot pay fines, fees, or tickets, their credit can be downgraded or their driver’s license suspended, making it hard to get a job or a place to live. Late fees and other penalties can monumentally grow the debt and dig people into holes that are impossible to get out of. Consider the facts that, in Chicago, there were over 10,000 fees and fines-related bankruptcies in 2017, 80% of them in predominantly African American communities, and that 21,000 drivers licenses were suspended in 2016 alone, the majority of them low income drivers. Those statistics demonstrate it clearly – the system must be fixed.

It’s time for City Hall to stop Chicago’s unrelenting “Loan Shark” tactics of collecting fees and fines. Even the fictional Rocky Balboa knew in the first Rocky movie: if you break a debtors thumbs they can’t work to pay of their debts.

It’s time to remove any Red Light Camera that does not demonstrably show improved public safety.

It’s time to establish a policy that limits ticketing on vehicle stickers to one per car, voiding multiple violations on the same plate.

It’s time to end driver’s license suspensions for unpaid fees and fines.

It’s time to assess ticket writing patterns to determine the real reason for disparities, and to fully examine our fees and fines policies to determine their full social-economic impact.

It’s time for action to end Chicago’s draconian and unfair fees and fines practices.