More Harm Than Good

Building a more just fine and fee system in California

SPUR Report
Cover of report

California’s system of fines and fees is causing significant financial harm to low-income, Black, and Latinx communities in the San Francisco Bay Area — which runs counter to the region’s commitment to an equitable economic recovery. These fines and fees are disproportionately levied on people of color, undermine economic security for low-income communities and constitute an inequitable source of government income. Research shows they're also ineffective in promoting behavior change. To address these challenges, California should eliminate its reliance on punitive fees, introduce programs to help people pay their fines, and explore more effective ways to promote behavior change.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the impacts of fines and fees are more financially disastrous than ever for low-income people struggling with unemployment, reduced work hours and much lower incomes. With California facing the potential for a long economic downturn, where the state’s worst off would struggle the most, fixing fines and fees can’t wait.