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Restitutions not being paid isn’t a lost cause, why the Fresh Start Act matters

Posted by Sara Cooper | Jul 24, 2023 | 0 Comments

Senate Bill 1106 was signed by Governor Gavin Newsom last September, the Fresh Start Act, in efforts to help impacted individuals clear their criminal records if eligible, to support the process of expungement that wouldn't be prohibited due to outstanding restitution fines.

In the past, Californians who had arrest and conviction records were not able to apply for expungement and record sealing due to not afford to complete restitution payments, deserting people and the opportunity to start or evolve careers as well as receive certain forms of assistance due to those fines. Without a job as well, there aren't many other options to pay them as well.

According to Californians for Safety and Justice, a program of Alliance for Safety and Justice, works with Californians from all walks of life to replace prison and justice system waste with common sense solutions that create safe neighborhoods, “This perverse cycle exacerbates poverty and the criminalization of Black and Brown communities, who are disproportionately impacted by the justice system. Because successful reentry into society for formerly incarcerated people benefits the broader community, SB 1106 ensures that expungement petitions aren't denied simply due to outstanding restitution debt.”

California Coalition of Women Prisoners, a supporter for the bill, states, “Unpaid Restitution SB 1106 prevents judges from weaponizing restitution fees to deny specific post-conviction record relief, also known as the sealing of records. Or to use them to prevent someone's parole release to another state. Effective Jan. 1, 2023, this bill does not waive or reduce fines owed but rather prohibits unpaid restitution as an obstacle to petition for record relief. Restitution fines, or compensation for a victim's injury or loss, are determined by a judge.”

“Old records that no longer reflect the reality of who someone is and what they have accomplished should not be a barrier to opportunity – this only hampers our ability to progress towards a better, safer future. With the Fresh Start Act, California is enacting a policy that prioritizes our collective health and safety by enabling every Californian to contribute to our state and its economy, not perpetuating the leftover harm from failed criminal justice system policies of the past that voters have repeatedly rejected. Policies that pave the way for a productive and complete return to civic life are an investment in public safety,” says Tinish Hollins, executive director of Californians for Safety and Justice.

Interrupting this debt cycle doesn't mean that restitution payments are erased or no longer required, with the average amount of a fine can be $6,500 per person. Only 29 percent of California residents who receive restitution payments due to the payer are in the position of inability of order to pay.

It's a step forward to helping both ends of the legal agreement and a step forward towards criminal justice reform.

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