House unanimously passes bill to end debtors’ prisons

News Release: 
Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Measure to Reform System for Court-Imposed Debts Wins Unanimous Support

The Washington House of Representatives today passed a bill (HB 1390) to end debtors’ prisons in Washington and reform our state’s system for court-imposed debts. The measure passed by a unanimous 97-0 vote.

The bill addresses the state’s system for court-imposed debts known as Legal Financial Obligations (LFOs). These are fees, fines, costs, and restitution imposed by courts on top of criminal sentences. The current system for LFOs imposes crushing debt that keeps people tied to the criminal justice system, results in some being jailed because they are poor, and hinders people from paying restitution to victims of crime.

“Our system for court-imposed debts is unfair, burdensome, and counterproductive. It has created modern-day debtors’ prisons for poor people. It is gratifying to see such strong bipartisan support for a fairer and more effective system,” said Prachi Dave, ACLU of Washington Staff Attorney.

The criminal justice system should promote the successful reentry of people who have committed crimes and enable them to become productive citizens who will pay restitution to victims. HB 1390 will do this by:

• Prioritizing the collection of LFOs for restitution to victims – by prohibiting collection of other fees and fines until restitution obligations are fully satisfied;

• Ending the practice of jailing people who are unable to pay LFOs;

• Setting clear standards for determining a person’s ability to pay;

• Eliminating the current 12% interest rate on non-restitution LFOs and stopping interest while people are incarcerated;

• Prohibiting forced collection of funds received from needs-based public assistance programs.