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Washington, D.C. – Considering the release of the U.S. Department of Justice’s revised and updated Dear Colleague letter regarding the assessment of criminal legal fines and fees by state, local, and juvenile justice authorities, Juliene James, vice president of criminal justice at Arnold Ventures, issued the following statement: 

We applaud the Justice Department for issuing critical guidance highlighting the discriminatory and unconstitutional practices that so often arise when courts and justice agencies assess and collect fines and fees. The newly released Dear Colleague Letter provides a clear accounting of the constitutional principles and case law that govern the use of fines and fees and will surely aid court leaders and other justice system stakeholders in ensuring equal access to justice. Notably, the revised guidance recognizes that jurisdictions should presume that children and youth are indigent and unable to pay’ and thus encourages states to pass legislation and modify court rules to codify this presumption. The guidance appropriately recognizes that the harmful effects of fines and fees fall disproportionately on low-income communities and people of color and encourages states and municipalities to reduce their reliance on fines and fees. We are pleased to know that this recommendation will be backed up with best practices guidance and new funding from the Justice Department to support jurisdictions committed to reform. 

Since 2015, Arnold Ventures has invested in a growing community of researchers, advocates, and reformers, both inside and outside of government, to change our nation’s approach to fines and fees. We support efforts to eliminate fees from the justice system; to ensure that fines, where applied, are equitably assessed and collected; and to abolish all monetary sanctions from the juvenile system. We are deeply inspired by the work of our grantees and communities nationwide to envision and realize a legal system free from monetary sanctions that punish poverty and compound racial disparities. We are delighted to see their work cited throughout this powerful new guidance from the Biden Administration.” 

Arnold Ventures is a philanthropy dedicated to tackling some of the most pressing problems in the United States. It is a team of more than 120 subject-matter experts headquartered in Houston with offices in New York and Washington, D.C. It works in four key issue areas: Criminal Justice, Education, Health, and Public Finance. Its work is guided by Evidence-Based Policy, Research, and Advocacy.