A new study released today by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area says Californians pay some of the highest fines and fees in the country for traffic infractions and that minorities are acutely affected. The group’s report, Paying More for Being Poor: Bias and Disparity in California’s Traffic Court System, says the fines and fees can create devastating financial hardship for low-income Californians. The punitive approach often includes driver’s license suspension, which can prompt a cascade of problems, including job loss, deepening poverty and incarceration.
Because of over-policing in communities of color and racial profiling, the study says, African Americans and Hispanics are more likely to receive traffic tickets than white and Asian individuals and are far more likely to be cited for driving without a license without also being cited for an observable offense. The new Bay Area data reveals that African Americans are up to 16 times more likely to be booked into county jail on a charge related to inability to pay a citation. The study recommends that fines and fees ought to be linked to a subject’s ability to pay and that community service should be accepted in lieu of monetary payments.