Ability to Pay

Background

In October 2016, the Judicial Council of California (JCC) was awarded a “Price of Justice Initiative” grant under the U.S. Department of Justice to study and identify issues related to adult defendants’ inability to pay criminal justice fines and fees.

An Ability to Pay Workgroup was soon created to (1) focus on traffic fines and fees and (2) identify strategies for addressing issues related to the inability to pay fines and fees. The workgroup includes Superior Court presiding judges, traffic court commissioners, court executive officers, and representatives from three partner agencies including the California State Association of Counties, the California District Attorneys Association, and the California Public Defenders Association.

In the first meeting on February 28, 2017, the workgroup identified accessibility, accuracy, and ease of use for both Superior Court staff and court users as essential components for an ability-to-pay tool. Soon after, JCC staff awarded a contract to Global Justice Solutions to work with the workgroup and JCC staff to use software development practices to develop an ability-to-pay tool software prototype to deploy in Superio Court pilot sites (including Santa Clara, San Francisco, Shasta, Tulare, and Ventura).

Project Focus

A primary project focus is the development of an ability-to-pay tool to help Superior Courts process determinations. The workgroup along with JCC staff, and the pilot sites are working to (1) identify processes for determining an individual’s ability to pay and (2) the possibilities for streamlining and automating the information exchanges involved.

JCC staff will study the impact of the tool on case processing, license suspensions, and court-ordered debt to inform possible expansion beyond the pilot phase.

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