Hundreds of people living with debt from court-imposed legal financial obligations (LFO’s) recently gathered at the Kitsap County Courthouse for the first ever “LFO Reconsideration Day.” The event was a collaboration between Civil Survival, Public Defender Association, judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and others who recognized that debilitating fines, fees and interest can create a life sentence of poverty for people in our community.

Those who attended were able to meet with an attorney and then talk to a judge about why reducing their debt would improve their lives and allow them to become more productive members of their families and communities. The event was the first of its kind in the State of Washington. Civil Survival is collaborating with other counties to follow in the future. Our Executive Director, Tarra Simmons, was instrumental in organizing the event, which was attended by elected officials and other influential observers.

Ms. Simmons’ dedication comes from her own painful experience with LFO’s. In 2011 she began serving a 20-month prison sentence. She faced thousands of dollars in LFO’s, which immediately began to grow with the 12% interest rate that accrued during her incarceration. After her release she was working at Burger King but the State garnished what little money she had, making it difficult to support her children. She felt like she was caught in a hopeless cycle she would not have escaped but for the help of strangers. Tarra was ultimately able to graduate magna cum laude from Seattle University Law School and now works as an attorney advocating for justice reform.

Many other justice-involved individuals are not so fortunate. The cycle of poverty created by crushing debt creates barriers to successful reentry. The LFO Reconsideration event provided help to hundreds of people who can now look forward to rebuilding their own lives.

Read more about the event: Kitsap Sun