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Next week: Two-day event aims to find solutions to rising court fines, fees

Court fines and fees have long burdened North Carolina residents convicted of even the most minor crimes and traffic violations, and the cost is only increasing.

The North Carolina Fines and Fees Coalition wants that to change. The multi-organizational group consists of community members, attorneys and researchers across the state who are working to end the criminalization of poverty and ultimately, the funding the court system on the backs of the poor.

The People’s Convening on Fines and Fees in NC, co-hosted by the NC Fines and Fees Coalition and the Aspen Institute Financial Security Program, will serve as the official campaign launch to “End Criminal Justice Debt in North Carolina.” It’s a two-day event that starts at 11 a.m. Friday, Feb. 14 and ends at 4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 15.

“The convening will provide space to define the issue through simulations and panel discussions led by directly-impacted people with input from local and national advocates,” the website for the event states. “We will then work towards solutions by highlighting current practices and proposing innovative ideas to implement change in NC. We hope this convening will serve as an opportunity to expand our coalition and develop a base of supporters across NC whose voices and participation will be vital to the success of the campaign.”

North Carolina has steadily increased the breadth and harshness of court fines and fees over the years. In addition, in 2014, legislators passed a statute that requires the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) to report how many court costs, fines and fees are waived by county and by judge. It resulted in a large decline in the amount of debt waivers issued across the state.

To compound that result, lawmakers passed a law in 2018 specifying that no court may waive or remit all or part of any court fines or costs without providing 15 days’ notice and an opportunity to be heard to all government entities affected by the monetary collection.

It’s had a chilling effect on court debt waivers, and individual judges have steadily decreased the number of waivers they issue.

“Tackling a challenge as systemic and burdensome as court fines and fees requires a fully informed, on-the-ground understanding of how it impacts real people in real American communities,” states the Feb. 14 event description.

Individuals who are interested in attending the People’s Convening on Fines and Fees can still register for the event (online here), which will be held at Bennett College in Greensboro. It’s free to attend and there is travel and lodging assistance available.

Note: The North Carolina Justice Center, the parent organization of NC Policy Watch, is a member of the Fines and Fees Coalition.

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