- Brennan Center for Justice: Criminal Justice Debt: A Barrier to Reentry (2010), and
- Conference of State Court Administrators: Courts Are Not Revenue Centers (2012)
"In Texas, a preliminary study by the Texas Office of Court Administration showed that people released to parole owe anywhere from $500 to $2,000 in offense-related debt (not including restitution). A chart used by court clerks in Texas inventories at least 39 different categories of court costs in misdemeanor cases and 35 types of costs in felony cases."
Texas is one of eight states that allow suspension of drivers licenses for unpaid fees. (See footnote 159, and here.) According to the Texas Office of Court Administration (see below) "In practice, this enforcement tool is currently only used when the offender has been convicted of a Class C misdemeanor."
Texas is one of 13 states that allow extension of probation term for nonpayment of fees. (See footnote 176.)
"[S]ome states – including Louisiana, North Carolina, and Texas – disenfranchise people on probation, while also allowing the court to extend probation if a defendant has not paid off his or her debt by the expiration of the probation term. By extending individuals’ probation terms due to unpaid debt, courts also effectively continue to deny the right to vote."
Here's an aspect of Texas law praised by the Brennan Center: "In Texas, one fee statute explicitly takes into account child support commitments, requiring the court to consider “the defendant’s employment status, earning ability, and financial resources” and “any other special circumstances that may affect the defendant’s ability to pay, including child support obligations and including any financial responsibilities owed by the defendant to dependents or restitution payments owed by the defendant to a victim.” This provision should be a model for other Texas fee statutes – and other states should follow its lead."
The report from the Council of State Court Administrators' analysis opened with a quote from the Texas Supreme Court: "If the right to obtain justice freely is to be a meaningful guarantee, it must preclude the legislature from raising general welfare through charges assessed to those who would utilize our courts."
The Texas-specific items in that document were presaged in a more detailed 2009 study from the Texas Office of Court Administration titled, "A Framework to Improve How Fines, Fees, Restitution, and Child Support are Assessed and Collected from People Convicted of Crimes," which framed the issue thusly:
Judges presiding over these cases frequently observe that these court-imposed financial obligations are significant. It is not unusual for someone who is unemployed and is without marketable job skills to be leaving jail or prison owing thousands of dollars in fines and fees and surcharges – and, on top of that amount, owe tens of thousands of dollars more in child support. Without realistic payment arrangements, state and local agencies often end up competing for a share of small payments, and much of the original debt imposed is never paid. In other cases, people are over-whelmed with the financial obligations they owe and they stop making payments altogether.
This situation frustrates the various parties who expect to receive, and depend on, these payments. Courts, correction departments, local probation departments, and other agencies increasingly rely on this revenue to cover their expenses. For example, in 2006 probation fees made up 46 percent of the Travis County (Texas) Community Supervision and Corrections Department’s $18.3 million budget. Families depend on child support payments to help cover the costs of child rearing. Restitution provides victims some reimbursement for their financial losses.Another notable observation from the 2009 OCA report:
Policies governing the collection of these financial obligations are often at odds, causing considerable confusion among judges and criminal justice agency administrators.
Because no one entity is tracking the financial obligations a person convicted of a crime owes to state and local government agencies and private vendors, judges, clerks, and supervision officers are unable to determine how much that person can reasonably be expected to pay. Policymakers seeking to generate revenue for new or existing initiatives are unable to project how any new fines or fees will affect the collection of the myriad financial obligations a judge can already impose under existing law.