Party Resolutions

Resolution 2022-01: Regarding Ending Unjust Financial Burdens to Those Living in Poverty Resulting from Legal Fines and Charges

Approved: 3/27/22


WHEREAS, Oregon and many other states have adopted fee and fine based public financing methods to meet the costs associated with large scale incarcerations, and these methods often add a multitude of fines, fees, and surcharges levied on persons convicted of criminal offenses, and

WHEREAS, out of 13,500 inmates in Oregon in 2018, 76% had outstanding debts related to prior criminal charges, thus creating a difficult situation in which it becomes nearly impossible to discharge past debts, and

WHEREAS, persons convicted of criminal offenses often face extreme employment discrimination, thus rendering added fees and charges as a additional penalty (similar to a debtors prison) beyond normal sentencing, and for which they do not have the resources to ameliorate, and

WHEREAS, the “fines, fees, and surcharge” method of funding has proven to be unsustainable since of the $1.7 billion in penalties levied for the 2017-2019 biennium, only 10% has been recoverable, and

WHEREAS, it is well-documented that a disproportionate number of persons incarcerated are people of color (Black and Hispanic people comprise 29% of the population but 59% of those incarcerated), thus adding to the inequity of sentencing, and

WHEREAS, many people living in conditions of poverty, specifically those with young dependents, are subjected to prolonged periods of detention because they do not have the ability to readily pay the fees, fines, and surcharges levied during the judicial process, thus exacerbating difficulties in providing a stable family situation, and

WHEREAS, Oregon has adopted legal options for mitigating the inequitable fee practices such as a) ORS 161.685 provides for revoking certain fees and restitutions in some cases without raising contempt charges, b) ORS 161.645 & .665 require that the “ability to pay” be considered when sentencing, c) 2020 HB 4210/SB 1601 (Chapter 10 2020 Laws) provides a pandemic related moratorium on unpaid traffic fines and license suspensions, and d) 2017 SB 360 (Chapter 522, 2017 Laws) provided for replacing monetary sanctions with community service in some cases, and

WHEREAS, options to modify punitive fines and fees remains locally administered and inconsistently applied throughout the state, thus failing to provide “equal justice” for all:


Section 1. We urge our legislators and the Governor of Oregon to establish a commission to evaluate the financial impact of the fees, fines, and charges of the criminal justice process on minorities and people of limited incomes and to make recommendations for reducing inequities and long-term financial harm to these groups.

Section 2. We urge that the commission so created involve a wide spectrum of stake-holders (especially the justice community and impacted communities) and thoroughly evaluate both best- and worst-case practices in Oregon, nationally, and internationally, as well as community justice practices employed by indigenous communities.

Resolution submitted by Peter Nordbye, SCC Delegate, Clackamas County.

ADOPTED by the Democratic Party of Oregon on March 27th, 2022.