Dante- Advocating for LFO Reform

lfo hearing 2-7-18

Dante (center) poses with Poverty Action staff and community member Deborah (far left) after giving his testimony in support of LFO’s at the Senate Committee on Law & Justice public hearing.

 

Dante knows first-hand the massive toll that LFOs (Legal Financial Obligations) can have on a life after release from prison. On February 7, 2018, he attended a public hearing in the Senate Committee of Law & Justice, and delivered powerful testimony in support of HB  1783. Below are his words.

Good morning Chair Pedersen and members of the Committee,

My name is Dante and I’m here today in support of HB 1783 to reform our state’s broken LFO system.

In 2002, I was charged with a crime, rehabilitated, and released in 2003 on good behavior–but I left the criminal justice system with a $2700 LFO. Every month, I made the minimum payment on these LFOs, even as I watched the debt grow.

Then in 2011, I missed two payments. The county of Snohomish mailed me a notice to show up for a review hearing, but they sent it to the wrong address so I never received it. Of course, I didn’t show up to the hearing and they issued a warrant for my arrest. Just before Christmas that year, I was stopped for a minor traffic infraction and ended up in jail because of this warrant. I was released after about a week, completely missing Christmas with my family. All for missing two payments in eight long years.

I still make the payments every month, but it’s disheartening and frustrating to have to see my statement every other month. I now owe around $17,000 and can see that my payments are only going to interest – they aren’t even touching the original fines or restitution. I worry that one day this debt will be at $100,000 and it will all be in interest. It’s difficult to imagine even being able to repay this debt.

My life is much better than it was 15 years ago. I am a single father of 2 girls, 7 and 9 years old. I’m going to school full time to earn a bachelor’s degree in computer science, and I am also working with parents to get their children out of foster care as a parent ally in the court house at the Regional Justice Center and the fear of being arrested at work in front of parents because of a minimum LFO payment haunts me. I still make a payment each month, but I would also really like to move on from that part of my life. And right now, my growing LFO debt keeps me from being able to do that.

There are so many other people in this situation. For me and for them, I urge you to support HB 1783.

Thank you.