Wednesday, October 06, 2010

The rise of debtors prisons?

Some extracurricular reading for those interested, via the Texas Observer, which pulled some of the greatest hits from the reports:
From Facing South, the online magazine of the Institute for Southern Studies.

The Brennan Center for Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union released reports this week documenting the growing problem of criminal justice debt and the considerable costs it's imposing on communities, taxpayers and indigent people convicted of crimes. The following figures come from those reports, titled respectively "Criminal Justice Debt: A Barrier to Reentry" and "In for a Penny: The Rise of America's New Debtor Prisons."


Anonymous said...

Sheeeiiit! Harris County Jail is the biggest one in Texas if not the country.
No mention of the probation money machine that feeds off technical violations of the probationers.

Prison Doc said...

I don't think that most of the general public is aware of this, but I doubt they would care since
Texas seems to enjoy being a "Hang 'em High" state. Like 8:38 says, when most of the public hears that someone was given probation they think he got off "Free" not being aware of the fees and other slings and arrows that are attached.

Oh well, it keeps the cells full and me busy....

Anonymous said...

Close TYC and save millions. It has become an intake for for the lost, public targets, and retirements for scapegoats. STOP the state ripoffs of kids and give-ways to morans in Texas governments.

Anonymous said...

As a cop, I'm not very familiar with probation hootenanny. But I picked up a young lady once on a MTR for Theft or something similar. I asked her why she didn't check in with her probation officer. She responded that she completed the time limits on her probation, but came up $15 short on the payoff of assessments. I said that's it? She said yup. So, until she paid that phenomenal fee she was kept on probation with the addition of MORE fees. As an active cop I say this is BS. Fix it. Cap the fees and set terminal dates regardless. Now they (probation dept.) are wasting my time. She was a good kid, too. Caught in the cycle.

Anonymous said...

At times, when I read something like these two articles, it gives me such a feeling of disappointment and despair.

I appreciate Grits making us aware of the extent of these types of situations, but sometimes reading things like this makes me feel like it is all so hopeless. The state is going to do what it wants to do and since we, the poor, don't have the money to fight it, we end up having to be victims of a system that is set up and developed by rich legislators who have no concept of what it is like to be so strapped for money that a $2,000 fee might as well be a $200,000 fee in regards to their ability to pay/repay it.

So what is the answer? The house and the senate doesn't seem inclined to reduce these fees nor reduce prison population for that matter (not in this fiscal environment). So the poor parolees or probationers just go back to prison on a technical violation due to inabilities of paying fines and fees. All the while, it is the poor middle man who struggles to pay the taxes needed to maintain a bloated prison system. Maybe each inmate needs to file bankruptcy prior to being released from prison in hopes of having a fresh start when he gets out. (Not likely to happen).

It is such a frustrating situation, after all we are talking about felons, the peons of the populace, the scourge of society, best thing to do is to keep them locked away far from pristine backyards. Seems to me, the rich folks seldom become felons because they can often buy their way out of the situation and the system. Freedom definitely has a price and it ain't cheap, but as long as they can afford it...what do they care?

So again... I beg the question... what is the answer?

I write letters to Senators and Reps., I have attended hearings and meetings when I am able. I belong to the ACLU and TIFA but change if it comes at all is slow and small, as these groups fight an uphill battle. If anyone has different suggestions on how a poor commoner can battle the giants, let me know. Until then, I guess all I can do is vent and cry out into the vast black hole known as cyberspace.

Anonymous said...


There are other costs not so evident that must be considered. Even defendant's required to pay very little are a financial burden to public tax payers.

For example a person on probation in the Bexar County Drug Court. Many defendants have all the fees waived. But the conditions of probation are so demanding they are unable to work. Their treatment requires much time and leaves very little for employment. As a result most defendants in Drug Court are receiving a lot of welfare money in the form of housing assistance, Food Stamps, unemployment, medicaid, and whatever else they can get. I do not advocate getting rid of Drug Court but it is probably not any cheaper than prison.

The Bexar County Drug Court also keeps defendants on probation longer than recommended. This is probably done to manipulate the successful completions. When a major violation occurs their time is extended rather than revoke probation or terminate their drug court supervision.

Judge Ernie Glen just recently ordered probation officers to destroy drugs found in a defendant's home rather than have the defendant arrested on a new charge.

Rosa said...

Monday evening John Bradley was on Fox 7's Austin station regarding the man who tried to eat his crystal meth during a traffic stop in Williamson County. The man was sentenced to 18 years for drug poss and tampering with government evidence. At the end of the interview the reporter asked Bradley if he believed in deferred adjudication.

Bradley stated he did and that out of the 2000 people they see each year, the majority are in the system for the first time and get deferred adjudication. Bradley said they get probation and they get TREATMENT and they are never seen again.

County courts typically make TREATMENT a condition of probation as well.

One of Wilco's preferred treatment providers is the Center for Cognitive Education. They offer an array of treatment ranging from hot checks, substance abuse, anger management, cognitive education, sex offender treatment, battered intervention and prevention.

The Center clearly states in their contract with an offender that their Client is Community Services And Corrections Dept of WilCo. CSCD is referred to as "the Department" The Center has a strict payment plan, fall behind more than 2 weeks and charges may be filed with the D.A.'s office against you for "theft of services." Or, you could be dismissed from treatment resulting in a probation revocation. Or additional conditions such as jail time could be added on.

Probation fees and fines are typically the maximum amount allowed by state law. Treatment costs are paid by the offender. The costs vary depending on what treatment the judge or probation or treatment provider decides you need. Its standard to extend probation if one falls behind in any payment of anything to WilCo.

Treatment is the cash cow of the WilCo Boys.

One last note, the center's therapists and psychologist are often called on to provide "expert" testimony for the state.

p.s. sorry I yelled, but someone should check into the TREATMENT. The Center requires cash only -- no receipts.

rosa said...

One last note, treatment in Wilco is usually required for the duration of probation.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Great comments, folks!

1:31 writes: "If anyone has different suggestions on how a poor commoner can battle the giants, let me know."

Use their strengths against them. A "commoner" has less to lose from pursuing longshot strategies and more time to spend on activism. Every advantage they seem to have conceals a disadvantage. There's a yang for every ying. David defeated Goliath with a small stone. Aim well. Never despair.

rodsmith said...

There is one other thing the offender can do everyone if the judge goes along. Have their lawyer ask the judge for an official court order "waving cost of all supervison and fines" That knocks the legs right out from under probaton/parole and the treatment centers...the state has to pay. so no incentive to drag it out and as a court order it's legal anywhere in the state. It's used a lot in florida.

Anonymous said...

In wilco, it's all about the money. Any defense lawyer who works out of this county will tell you this. Pay your fines up front, and you get 80% less grief.

Anonymous said...

I would like to leave a comment about Aransas County probation. Seems their UA's are below quality and you'll come up positive for cocaine when you haven't done it in years. They don';t seem to care that the probationers are getting false positives. I'm surprised there hasn't been a class action lawsuit against them.