Seattle Municipal Court, which handles misdemeanor cases in the city, has stopped charging fees for probation and other supervision services.
The court’s judges voted unanimously earlier this month to eliminate the fees that people with convictions were sometimes ordered to pay while participating in probation, record checks, work crews and community service assignments. The judges already had been waiving the fees in many cases.
The new policy took effect on Sept. 16, according to a news release that cited concerns about the COVID-19 crisis and about people without much money being charged fees while trying to move ahead with their lives.
“Eliminating these fees is the right thing to do,” Presiding Judge Willie Gregory said in the release. “We hope to lessen barriers to success for the people who come before us.”
The fees in question were discretionary; judges could choose whether to impose them. Some other fees related to criminal cases are mandated by state law and will continue being charged.
Seattle’s probation fees were $25 per month and often totaled $600, court spokeswoman Laura Bet said. The record check fees were $10 per month and often totaled $240. The work crew fees and community service fees were $25 each.
Seattle Municipal Court judges in recent years chose not to impose the fees in most cases involving people without the ability to pay, Bet said, making Wednesday’s announcement somewhat symbolic.
Still, the fees contributed about $268,000 per year to the city’s general fund, with the probation fees accounting for almost 80% of that total, she said.
That money will no longer be collected because, on principle, “the court does not believe in charging people for court-imposed supervision,” Wednesday’s news release said.
The decision is meant to respond to mounting, nationwide criticism of court fines and fees, the release said, noting that courts in Los Angeles and San Francisco preceded Seattle in scrapping supervision-related fees.
Separately, Seattle Municipal Court last month launched a new pretrial diversion program that connects people charged with certain low-level crimes to social services, drug treatment and housing assistance.