Traffic Courts Are Driving Inequality in California

A disproportionate share of fees, fines, and license suspensions fall on blacks and Latinos.
News Story (California)

Rebecca McCray
April 11, 2016

Tags: Court Debt, Debtors Prison, Driver's license suspension, Fines and Fees

Organizations mentioned/involved: Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area (LCCR), Western Center on Law & Poverty (WCLP) (CA), East Bay Community Law Center (EBCLC) (Berkeley, CA)


The story of Mayo’s escalating fine for a minor transit-related offense, and his inability to afford it, is commonplace in California. A study published Monday by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, a civil legal aid organization, and several partner organizations documents the extent of the problem and its disproportionate impact on black and Latino Californians.

In San Francisco, the report’s authors found, black people make up less than 6 percent of the city’s population yet account for 49 percent of arrests made for failure to pay a fine or appear in court. Civil fines left unpaid also disproportionately lead to the suspension of driver’s licenses for black and Latino Californians, according to the study, with the highest suspension rates concentrated in neighborhoods with high poverty rates and high percentages of black or Latino residents.