District Attorney Krasner Implements New Policy Giving Indigent Philadelphians Independence from Fines and Fees

Philadelphia DAO
Jul 3 · 3 min read

CONTACT:
Jane Roh, 215–686–8711,

PHILADELPHIA (July 3, 2019) — District Attorney Larry Krasner today announced that the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office (DAO) has implemented a new policy that will give indigent defendants in certain cases independence from court-mandated fines and fees.

The new policy also ensures that restitution is made to victims.

“Today, Philadelphia is a giant leap closer to a truly fair and consistent system of justice in which low-income defendants do not face additional punishment by way of unaffordable fines and fees that drive them deeper into debt and poverty,” District Attorney Krasner said. “This policy change moves us closer to justice in other ways: Waiving fines and fees can help indigent defendants afford transportation and other costs associated with employment, education and training programs, completing probation terms, and child or elder care. I’m grateful to DAO staff who worked with outside justice partners on this groundbreaking policy, and I’m proud to lead a District Attorney’s Office working to eliminate the ‘poverty trap’ that makes it nearly impossible for defendants to leave the criminal justice system behind them even after they have served their sentences.”

Under the current system, payments such as the $175 court-mandated booking center fee are divided between fines, fees, and restitution. In cases where restitution is awarded, DAO is using the new policy to make sure all indigent defendants’ limited funds go toward meeting their requirements to victims first.

In order to qualify, individuals need to establish that they are indigent as follows:

  • Be represented by the public defender, court-appointed counsel, pro bono counsel, or any free legal services organization;
  • Receive means-based public assistance;
  • Have an income at or below 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines; or
  • Provide evidence showing that they are indigent.

“For people living just above the poverty line, fines and court fees become an obstacle to rehabilitation. They can trap people in a cycle of poverty and incarceration and effectively turn our jails into debtors’ prisons,” Chief Defender Keir Bradford-Grey of the Philadelphia Defender Association said. “Just last year, courts in Philadelphia ordered people to pay over $21 million in fees despite the fact that more than a quarter of Philadelphians live below the poverty line. We appreciate the efforts of the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office to draw attention to this issue and hope judges will fulfill their obligation to make individualized assessments of a person’s ability to pay fines and court fees before imposing them.”

“The vast majority of people arraigned in our city courtrooms are poor or working class, struggling to support themselves and their families, fighting to rise from trauma and structural racism. A district attorney working to reduce racism and injustice in our communities must pay attention to how poverty works as a core driver of mass incarceration, at all steps in the criminal legal process,” the Coalition for a Just DA said in a statement. “We applaud District Attorney Krasner’s move to reduce the burden of fines and fees on accused people in our court system, and we look forward to more opportunities to work with his office to wind down the many ways in which poverty impacts Philadelphians’ access to justice.”

According to a recent study by the Harvard Kennedy School, the average hidden cost of incarceration is more than $13,000 in court-related fines and fees. Philadelphia courts may assess any number of fees including: a Booking Center Fee ($175), Judicial Computer Project Fee ($12), Commonwealth Costs ($20.30), Costs of Prosecution ($50), County Court Costs ($29.85), State Court Costs ($13.55), monthly offender Supervision Fees (minimum monthly payment of $25), and various fees that are based on the severity of the defendant’s crime.

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The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office is the largest prosecutor’s office in Pennsylvania, and one of the largest in the nation. It serves the more than 1.5 million citizens of the City and County of Philadelphia, employing 600 lawyers, detectives and support staff. The District Attorney’s Office is responsible for prosecution of over 40,000 criminal cases annually.

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