Mayor Briley says that his administration will conduct an in-depth assessment of Metro Nashville’s criminal justice fines and fees structure. The assessment will also include recommendations to reduce financial barriers for residents and become less reliant on revenues from criminal justice fines and fees.
The assessment is made possible by two separate technical assistance engagements recently approved by the Metro Council: PFM Technical Assistance: Reducing Reliance on Criminal Justice Fines & Fees and the National League of Cities: Cities Addressing Fines and Fees Equitably (CAFFE).
The PFM technical assistance will be led by its recently created Center for Justice & Safety Finance (CJSF).
“This is an equity issue. Residents should not be prevented from improving their lives or moving forward because of often inequitable or antiquated fines and fees practices,” said Briley. “Thanks to PFM and the National League of Cities, we will carefully study our current system and propose any needed changes. I believe Nashville can serve as a national example for how cities can have equitable fines and fees structures that do not unfairly penalize their most marginalized residents.”
The PFM Technical Assistance: Reducing Reliance on Criminal Justice Fines & Fees work will:
- Outline the current system of criminal fines and fees, including data collection and identification of fines and fees under local government control
- Assess the revenue and cost impact of the current system of fines and fees, including a review of revenue data and funding streams
- Develop a plan for the phase out of the use of fines and fees that includes a set of alternative revenue sources, potential cost savings, and a detailed implementation framework
- Engage executive and legislative leadership, finance and budget directors, law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges through a project steering committee
PFM will provide Metro with a final report with recommendations by fall 2019.
“For more and more people unable to pay a criminal fine or fee, the result can be a never-ending cycle of poverty and a revolving door to the criminal justice system. Not only does this create a fragile situation for many Nashville residents and their families, it turns police officers’ focus away from public safety and towards collecting a debt,” said Chief Ronal Serpas, a former police chief in Nashville and New Orleans, who serves as CJSF’s senior advisor.
“It is a false choice to suggest that local government leaders need to pick balanced budgets or a fair and effective criminal justice system,” said PFM Managing Director and CJSF Director David Eichenthal. “The reality is that there are ways to ensure that cities and counties don’t need to pay for government programs and services through a system of fines and fees that may be pennywise and pound foolish. We look forward to working with Mayor Briley and Nashville Metro to develop a plan that will promote fiscal health and justice.”
Through participation in the NLC CAFFE project, Metro will: conduct an assessment of the city’s criminal justice fines and fees structure and impact on residents; develop recommendations to reduce inequities in how fines and fees are imposed, remedy unfair statutes and collections practices, and reduce the city’s fiscal reliance on criminal justice fines and fees; and develop recommendations to connect residents involved in the criminal justice system to financial empowerment services.
The Criminal Justice Fines and Fees Steering Committee will provide relevant information and feedback as the administration conducts this work. The Committee will also assist with stakeholder engagement as Metro develops and considers recommendations to become less reliant on criminal justice fines and fees and identifies alternative revenue streams.
Steering committee members include:
- Mayor David Briley (chair)
- Glenn Funk, District Attorney
- Martesha Johnson, Public Defender
- Steve Anderson, Chief of Police
- Daron Hall, Sheriff
- Melissa Blackburn, Presiding Judge of General Sessions Court
- Howard Gentry, Criminal Court Clerk
- Jon Cooper, Director of the Department of Law\
- Talia Lomax-O’dneal, Director of the Department of Finance
- Mary Carolyn Roberts, District 20 Councilmember and Chair of the Metro Council Public Safety Committee
- Jeff Yarbro, Tennessee State Senator, District 21
- Walter Holloway, Member of the Community Oversight Board
- Bettie Kirkland, Executive Director, Project Return
The committee will first convene the week of June 17.