Action Alert
Tell Olympia: End debtors' prisons in Washington

Our state's system for collecting court-imposed fees, fines, and restitution is broken. It imposes crushing debts on poor people and their debts accrue at 12 percent annual interest, even when incarcerated. Those who cannot afford to pay are sometimes locked up, creating modern-day debtors' prisons. Furthermore, many courts take their share of any payments before crime victims receive any restitution. Tell your legislator to reform this unfair system.

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Your State Lower Chamber Representatives
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Please support HB 1783 to reform our state's broken system of court-imposed legal financial obligations (LFOs). LFOs are fees, fines, costs, and restitution imposed by courts on top of criminal sentences for many people convicted in Washington. The state's current system of LFOs makes it extremely difficult for poor people with records to rebuild their lives. The legislature should reform this system to hold offenders accountable, ensure they can realistically pay their debts, and provide restitution to crime victims.

The current LFO system does not have guidelines for determining what an individual can reasonably afford to pay. Interest on this debt accrues at 12% annually, even while a person is incarcerated. As a result, people with limited resources face insurmountable debt and remain tethered to the criminal justice system for years. Collections rates are very low, and victims are not paid restitution because other fines and fees are often collected first.

Individuals who have otherwise served their sentences can be arrested and jailed for failing to pay LFOs. While jail is supposed to be reserved for individuals who willfully refuse to pay, all too often courts have locked up poor people who were simply unable to pay - resulting in a modern-day debtors' prison. In one Washington county, approximately 20% of people in custody on a given day were serving time for non-payment of court-imposed debt.

HB 1783 would help create a fair and workable system by:

- Prioritizing the collection of LFOs for restitution to victims.
- Setting clear standards for determining a person's ability to pay;
- Eliminating the current 12% interest rate;
- Stopping interest from accruing while a person is incarcerated; and
- Prohibiting forced collection of funds received from needs-based public assistance programs;
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Enabling people to make successful transitions from the criminal justice system into society is in everyone's best interest. We urge you to support HB 1783 as an important step toward fixing our broken LFO system.
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