Monday, September 03, 2018

Texas #debtorsprison legislation overachieving, even boosted revenue

Texas "debtors prison" legislation last year drew plenty of critics among municipal judges and county officials focused on revenue maximization. Now we know that those criticisms were misplaced and the new law is working even better than anticipated.

At the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on Thursday, Office of Court Administration Director David Slayton testified for the first time on the results of "debtors prison" legislation passed by the Texas Legislature in 2017. (You can watch his testimony on the bill here beginning at the 1:29:20 mark.)

When the bill was in play last year, county officials and municipal court judges predicted massive drops in revenue, prompting Rep. Andrew Murr to attach an extra fee counties can charge to indigent defendants sentenced to community service, aiming to offset presumed revenue drops.

As it turned out, that was unnecessary. At the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee meeting Thursday, Slayton told the committee the bill had significantly overachieved, including in ways that directly contradict the predictions of revenue-focused critics:
  • The number of warrants for failure to appear is declining.
  • The number of warrants for failure to pay is also declining.
  • The number of cases resolved through jail credit is declining.
  • The number of cases resolved through community service is increasing.
  • The number of defendants getting on payment plans has increased.
  • Collections per case have increased: By 6.7 percent at the local level and 7.3 percent at the state level.
To me, that's a remarkable result! The bill is achieving all of its goals and then some. Meanwhile, every sky-is-falling prediction by critics turned out to be wrong. (MORE [9/10]: Here's a link to the handout with the graphs being described above. See a summary of new provisions affecting collection of fines and fees and another specifically summarizing changes affecting jailable offenses.)

Regular readers may recall that the House sponsor of the legislation, Rep. Terry Canales, attributed the bill to a series of blog posts published on this humble opusculum, so I'm particularly glad to learn it's working out well.

Slayton also mentioned that the Texas Public Policy Foundation and the Brennan Center are doing a joint report on the costs to collect Class C misdemeanor debt that he expects will come out before the 86th legislative session. Grits can't wait!


Steven Michael Seys said...

It's refreshing to see good sense trumping reactionary opposition. BTW thanks for the vocabulary improvement. I will enjoy using the word opusculum in my own writing.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

The word seems perfect to describe a blog. Hardly an opus; hence, an opusculum. :)

Unknown said...

Excellent! Now let's start focusing on elimination of surcharges and license suspensions for marijuana possession!.

Anonymous said...

Correct me if I'm wrong but isn't a debtor's prison unconstitutional? I think I read somewhere in the history books where the Framers of the US Constitution were opposed to this because that's what they had in Europe. Mmm.

Anonymous said...

You'd think "they do it in Europe," would be enough for any Texas politician to categorically oppose it :D

Mark Hogberg said...

The stats cited by David during the hearing; are those available to the public? I searched OCA's site but did not locate anything related.

Anonymous said...

Question: Just who in the hell are these people governing this country now? I taking about down from Washington DC through all 50 states houses there is a serious disconnect. The corruption, the greed of politicians, police acting more like the Nazi Gestapo than protectors of the peace, citizens afraid of their own shadow---WTF!!! I don't recognize anything about this country I love anymore---damn shame.

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