Opinion: End criminal justice fees that harm minorities and poor

By Jhumpa Bhattacharya and Theresa Zhen | The Mercury News

The Bay Area is known for its progressive values. We view ourselves as committed to ensuring everyone, regardless of race or ethnicity, is safe, economically secure and able to reach their full potential.

In line with these values, San Francisco recently took a groundbreaking step forward by eliminating administrative criminal justice fees that are largely uncollectable and cause undue harm to communities of color and low-income communities.

It’s time for Alameda County to step up and do the same.

Charged to people who have already paid their debt to society, criminal justice administrative fees serve no formal punitive function and are often assigned to people who simply cannot afford to pay them.

In Alameda County, there is an outstanding debt of over $21 million owed by more than 35,000 individuals. The fees range from charging $450 to people who used a public defender for motions, trials or other evidentiary proceedings for a misdemeanor case, to fees for probation supervision, for example, which are $90 a month, or $6,100 for the average probationer per case.

Such crippling fees force families who are already financially stressed to make untenable choices between paying court-ordered fees or covering basic expenses, like feeding their children. They therefore often end up with insurmountable, uncollectable debt.

Click here to read the full op-ed.

Digging Deeper on the “Tools that Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor”

In mid-September, Insight president Anne Price had the pleasure of sitting down with Virginia Eubanks, an associate professor of political science at the University at Albany, SUNY, to discuss her work and her new book, Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor.

Virginia has worked as a welfare rights advocate and spent the past several years examining how automated social exclusion is growing by the use of predictive models and algorithms that are replacing or augmenting human decision-making in our social welfare system.

Click here to read excerpts from their conversation.


Why a Social Wealth Fund Must Account for Racial Inequity

By Anne Price and Jhumpa Bhattacharya, Medium

There has never been a more critical, more insistent time to reimagine and implement economic policies to address the rise of extreme racial and economic inequality, and change the rules that govern power and the concentration of wealth.

Wealth — what you own minus what you owe — acts as the buffer between temporary setback and economic catastrophe; it allows us to live and retire with dignity and security. Without savings or wealth of some form, economic stability is built on a house of cards that quickly crumbles when income is cut or disrupted through job loss, reduced work hours or wages, or if families suffer from an unexpected health emergency.

The difference in wealth holdings between the ultra-wealthy and everybody else continues to widen. Today, about 160,000 U.S. households own more wealth than the poorest 90 percent combined. And the differences in wealth between whites and people of color is at its highest level in 25 years. In 2016, the typical white household held $171,000 in wealth — 10 times that of the typical Black household, and about 8 times that of Latinx households.

We can and must steer our economy to create a just and fair society that tackles inequality and climate change, and empowers each American to share in the investments that are now hoarded by a select few. The public wealth fund is one key model that has drawn increased study as a way to address these issues.

Click here to read the full article.

It’s Bigger Than Bail

By Anne Price, Medium

Our criminal justice system is broken. Reforming, fixing or better yet reimagining how we think about safety and justice in America is imperative in our work toward racial and economic justice. All across the country, grassroots organizations led by communities of color, women, advocates and progressive policymakers are shedding light on how our current system perpetuates racial and economic inequities, and are joining campaigns to eradicate fines and fees, mandatory sentencing requirements and money bail.

What is becoming increasingly evident, is that we must ground our work in a proactive vision of what safety, justice, and liberation means to us versus focusing on ending a specific practice. This week’s legislation to end money bail in California is a prime example of this need.

A few days ago, Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 10 (SB10) to end the heinous system of money bail in California. While this seems like a great win, the legislation actually replaces money bail with racially bias risk assessments and a subjective evaluation process giving too much power to the discretion of judges and prosecutors, who studies show are prone to implicit racial bias. We’ve effectively replaced one terrible practice with yet another one that will continue to harm Black and Brown communities. For more on the problems with Senate Bill 10, read our Director of Policy and Research Jacob Denney’s piece on this matter.

Click here to read the full feature.

SB10 Will Hurt, Not Help

By Jacob Denney, Medium

This week, California legislatures moved forward in passing Senate Bill 10 to eliminate money bail. While eliminating money bail is desperately needed to fix our broken criminal justice system, the bill as it stands now will do nothing to disrupt the legacy of racial and economic injustice that has shaped our state’s criminal justice system. In fact, the bill will likely ensure a continuance of that legacy.

To be clear, we must get rid of money bail in order to address the deep inequities of our current criminal justice system. Money bail disproportionately punishes people with low incomes and people of color. It creates a two-tiered system of justice, one where those who can afford it are released from pretrial incarceration and everyone else is trapped in jail, unable to work, support their families, or assist in their own defense. This system reduces economic stability, particularly for families who are already struggling, and destroys thousands of people’s lives in California every year. Senate Bill 10 is likely to do the exact same thing.

Senate Bill 10 would replace the discriminatory money bail system with a new structure where anyone accused of a crime can be held pretrial, regardless of the circumstances. Dubbed “preventive detention,” this discretionary evaluation process would enable judges and prosecutors to hold people accused of crimes in jail with remarkable ease. This means that more, rather than fewer, Californians would likely end up behind bars while waiting for trial.

Click here to read Jacob’s full op-ed.

City Visions | KALW Radio Program

Anne Price, alongside Chris Hoene, Executive Director of the California Budget & Policy Center, and Taylor Jo Isenberg, Managing Director of the Economic Security Project, explored the promise of universal basic income in California on KALW City Vision radio program.

The three shared their knowledge and research to answer the following:

  • Are monthly cash transfers the social safety net of the future — addressing poverty, racial inequity and automation-induced job losses?
  • Or, is basic income just a costly addition to our current, some would say failing, social assistance programs?
  • And more from listeners who called in to ask their specific questions!

Click here to listen to the full conversation.

A True Reconciliation: Addressing Our Nation’s Social Safety Net

By Anne Price, Medium

Last week, remarks from a Minnesota lawmaker surfaced in which he was reported as referring to people receiving public benefits as “parasites” and “scoundrels.” The Congressman also suggested that Black people on public assistance have substituted “one plantation for another.” While stoking fears and fueling divisiveness through degrading and dehumanizing rhetoric have become startlingly commonplace under the current Administration, the blatant use of language that strips the poor and people of color of their basic humanity is long-standing.

Nour Kteily, a psychologist at Northwestern University who studies our ability to see each other as human, found that many people are capable of othering and it’s not uncommon for them to compare other groups to animals or lower life forms than human beings. Both our history and cognitive research show that when we refer to people as “parasites,” “takers” and “animals,” it activates a mental switch in our brains that can provoke hostility and antipathy towards others.

Dehumanization is linked to support for policies that punish or exclude marginalized people in our social safety net system, including programs like Food Stamps (SNAP), Medicaid, Unemployment Insurance, and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. A new study from UC Berkeley and Stanford University shows a causal relationship between attitudes to public assistance and threatened racial status. Researchers found that racial resentment increases and support for social safety net declines in selected periods, like after the Great Recession and the election of Barack Obama in 2008. Racial resentment is heightened when whites fear that their population is declining or their status is being threatened, and thus call for deeper cuts in social safety net programs. Researchers discovered that whites also support cuts if they perceive those programs are primarily helping people of color.

Although it won’t be easy, we have the capacity to forge greater compassion and understanding to address our social safety net system protecting those most vulnerable in our society.

Click here to read Anne’s full piece.

Seeding a Generation with Wealth

An Interview with Anne Price, BlackHer

Building our personal, economic, and political power by getting educated and organized, and taking action for progressive change, that’s what we’re all about at BlackHer!

This week we were thrilled to catch up with Anne Price, president and CEO of the Insight Center for Community Economic Development.  The Insight Center is “a national research and economic justice organization working to ensure that all people become and remain economically secure.”

Me:  Anne, I’m so excited to connect with you.  I’m so impressed with your research on the racial wealth gap.  There is so much focus on income inequality in the U.S.  While that is an important issue to address, why we don’t hear more about the gaping wealth gap between Black and white folks?

Anne: Part of the reason that we’ve focused on the income gap and wage disparities for so many years is that data on wages is readily available.

Click here to read the full interview.

Delayed Liberation

By Anne Price


Last week, Insight hosted its first Juneteenth economic forum commemorating June 19th, 1865, when a reluctant Texas state government finally emancipated a quarter of a million people enslaved in the state two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was put into effect.

As Vann R. Newkirk II at The Atlantic most brilliantly notes, Juneteenth is “the observance of a victory delayed, of foot-dragging and desperate resistance by white supremacy against the tide of human rights, and of a legal freedom trampled by the might of state violence.”

This year, Juneteenth served not only as a rallying call to end the criminalization of economic migrants and the inhumane policy to separate children from their parents at our nation’s southern border, but an opportunity to examine the age-old tactic used throughout our history to control and decimate communities of color for profit. We are reminded, yet again, of how engaging in blatant dehumanization of people of color lays the foundation for state sanctioned violence and criminalization.

The crisis at the border provides space to understand how these historical policies and practices continue to manifest. It also shines a light on how forced family separation is pervasive, long-standing, and universal among communities of color, resulting in both similar and strikingly different economic and life outcomes.

Click here to read Anne’s full piece.

From left to right: Cat Brooks, Nwamaka Agbo, Mia Birdsong, and Anne Price

Families Belong Together

We at the Insight Center are horrified and outraged at the Trump administration’s inhumane policy to separate children from their parents at our nation’s southern border. From mid-April to the end of May, close to 2,000 children – many of whom are infants and toddlers – have been forcibly removed from their parents and loved ones due to new policy dictated by the current administration. We call for an end to this practice immediately, and an end to the criminalization of immigrants and refugees coming to the U.S. in search of safety, economic mobility, and a better life.

Make no mistake – family separation is an age-old tactic used throughout U.S. history to dehumanize, subjugate, and break communities. Enslaved Africans and their descendants routinely had their children, partners, and siblings stripped from them as a means of control. Native American communities suffered such cruelties when the government forced children into boarding schools far away from their families. The intention was to sever these young people’s connection to their community, culture, and identity, and such a practice has had profound and disastrous effects, both psychologically and economically, on Native communities.

In addition to the fundamental wrongs of family separation, history and common sense tell us that tearing apart families has immediate and long-term social and economic consequences, deeply harming affected families and communities, and our society at large. We at the Insight Center believe that all people, regardless of race, zip code, gender, or immigration status, have the right to economic security, and that security begins with the safety of our families. Family separation clashes at the deepest level with our values and mission as an economic and racial justice organization, and we stand with those calling for an end to family separation and the return of children to their parents and loved ones.