Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that, pursuant to Executive Order 13777, he was rescinding guidance materials issued by the Justice Department, including an advisory for recipients of financial assistance from the U.S. Department of Justice on levying fines and fees on juveniles and a 2016 "Dear Colleague" letter on enforcement of fines and fees.
The Justice Department serves as the nation’s premier federal law enforcement agency and has historically played a critical role in imparting helpful guidance to officials across the country on best policies and practices in critical areas.
The Justice Department’s historic role in issuing guidance has proven particularly valuable in providing clarity for court administrators, and other key contacts across the justice system, who seek to ensure that they are not levying fines and fees on poor people in ways that may violate the constitution.
Profit-minded court policies targeting the most economically vulnerable American’s have resulted in a resurgence of unconstitutional but widespread practices penalizing the poor and people of color.
Attorney General Jeff Session’s decision to retract guidance from the Justice Department rooting out practices resulting in a perpetual cycle of fines, debt and jail of America’s poor is a horrifying step backward in ongoing efforts to reform the criminal justice system.
This latest action must be viewed alongside other actions taken by the attorney general to turn the clock on civil rights compliance across the country, including abandoning use of consent decrees as a vehicle for promoting constitutional policing practices, reversing positions in pending civil rights cases and bringing federal civil rights enforcement to a virtual grinding halt.
We condemn Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s latest attempt to turn back the clock on civil rights progress and urge courts and administrators across the country to take affirmative steps to halt the resurgence of unconstitutional debtors’ prisons in their communities.