This week, the City of Phoenix and its Municipal Court announced a new program that aims to counter situations that have too often have led people into financial straits and even into the justice system.
The new “Compliance Assistance Program” is “designed to give residents with past-due traffic fines a path to repay the debts and work towards restoring driving privileges.”
The past year has provided numerous examples from around the country in which residents faced financial ruin and increased interaction with police because of an accumulation of unpaid tickets, fines, and penalties. But these issues didn’t just face residents of Ferguson, Missouri, or other newsworthy places; they face residents of Arizona cities too. The Phoenix program is a salutary effort to address those problems; you can read more about it here.
As Megan Cassidy reports:
“The Compliance Assistance Program is designed to break what can become a crippling cycle of fines and subsequent driving penalties: Unpaid fines can lead to a suspended license. And driving on a suspended license can lead to criminal charges and jail time for the working poor. As of Dec. 31, Phoenix was owed more than $283 million in overdue municipal fines, fees and restitution dating back decades. As many as 6,000 people currently have their licenses suspended because of delinquent Phoenix fines.”
Quoted in the story and a key driver of the change is Phoenix City Councilwoman Kate Gallego.
“We want people to be able to pay their fines in a sustainable way,” she said. “If you push people to the brink of their financial ability, the consequences are more negative.”
New Chief Presiding Municipal Judge B. Don Taylor came into the job via a contentious process, but his advocacy for these changes is a welcome sign for a progressive court, one that has substantial daily interactions with residents. Though the program is just a first step, residents should be heartened by the actions of Judge Taylor and Councilwoman Gallego, who “said she made reforming the Municipal Court system a priority in her decision-making when the City Council selected a new presiding municipal judge last year.”
As Judge Taylor says in the Arizona Republic story, “It’s really providing a mechanism that people haven’t really had before. I think creating something that will allow them to be compliant, get the license back, really helps them be in a good place.”
If the name Don Taylor sounds familiar, it may be because he’s a longtime lawyer, former prosecutor, and even a story-subject in Arizona Attorney Magazine. In 2007, we spoke with him as he worked at the International Criminal Tribunal at The Hague.
Congratulations on the new program.Follow @azatty