Washtenaw County joins national effort to make fees and fines fairer

On Aug. 3, Washtenaw County was selected as one of six local governments to participate in the second cohort of the Cities and Counties for Fines and Fee Justice (CCFFJ). CCFFJ is a national network of communities working to reform fine and fee practices that disproportionately impact low-income residents, led by the San Francisco Financial Justice Project and the Fines and Fees Justice Center

This opportunity, led by Washtenaw County's Racial Equity Office, will focus on eliminating non-statutory fines and fees, while a modest grant from the cohort will be awarded to other local organizations that are working to provide assistance and opportunities to individuals directly impacted by the justice system.

Crystal Campbell, public information officer for Washtenaw County, says the opportunity will give the Racial Equity Office “very personalized technological assistance” and “specific resources afforded to Washtenaw County.”

“We’ll be analyzing the entire budget through a racial equity lens – how much of the common budget is reliant on fines and fees from residents. We are hoping to provide relief for families that have to interact with our justice system and courts,” Campbell says.

Campbell says the opportunity will also help unite Washtenaw County offices that have been working together to provide opportunities, resources, and justice for people of color and low-income residents. Those include the sheriff's office and the treasurer's office.

“This is just one piece of a larger puzzle,” Campbell explains. “These are things that we are actively working on. It may not seem like it’s a priority or the top of the agenda, but it absolutely is. Criminal justice reform work is constantly being done in the background and is absolutely a priority.”

More information on resources and opportunities provided by the Racial Equity Office is available here.

Rylee Barnsdale is a Michigan native and longtime Washtenaw County resident. She wants to use her journalistic experience from her time at Eastern Michigan University writing for the Eastern Echo to tell the stories of Washtenaw County residents that need to be heard.