Academic journal article Federal Probation

Inherently Unstable: The History and Future of Reliance on Court-Imposed Fees in the State of Texas

Academic journal article Federal Probation

Inherently Unstable: The History and Future of Reliance on Court-Imposed Fees in the State of Texas

Article excerpt

MUCH HAS BEEN written and discussed about the imposition of fines, fees, and costs on criminal defendants in this country. And much of the academic research has rightly concerned the unfairness, especially to the poor, of over-relying on court-imposed fees to operate local and state criminal justice systems. Certain advocacy groups have focused their energy on ensuring that local courts and criminal justice agencies follow Supreme Court precedent in ordering the assessment of fines, fees, and costs. In this article I will focus more on the practicality of this problem, asking whether the continued reliance on the imposition of court-ordered fees to support the operation of local adult probation departments in Texas is sustainable.

This article is divided into two parts. The first part examines the history of the assessment of court-ordered fines, fees, and costs on probationers in one state-the State of Texas. This portion of the article attempts to address the question, "How did we get here?" with the disturbing notion that in some respects probation in Texas was more just, humane, and rational 50 years ago than it is today. The second portion of this article examines changes in the economy with a focus on wage growth-and stagnation-within certain demographic groups and on the impact on employment and wages due to advancing technological innovations in the field of artificial intelligent, robotics, and automation. This section ends with some recommendations for policy makers and adult probation departments to prepare for the radical changes that they will be facing. Finally I conclude with an assessment of the future of the criminal justice system in Texas if the status quo remains and the public policy continues to rely on offenders to support the criminal justice system.

A History of Court-Imposed Probation Fees in Texas

The State of Texas, like many other states, relies heavily on offender payments to fund adult probation services. However, historically it has not always been the case that probationers, in addition to paying an assessed fine, were also expected to pay a monthly fee for the operation of adult probation departments. Ironically, in recent years one of the selling points in promoting efforts to reform the probation system in Texas has been that by adding various fees and costs the reforms would pay for themselves. In this article I will first examine how this situation came about and how Texas has now reached the point that the overreliance on court-imposed fees has hurt not only impoverished probationers but also the state's criminal justice system. In fact, overreliance on fees has distorted the system by providing probationers with incentives to recidivate and avoid probation; it has also made it less likely that probation in Texas could serve as an agent of rehabilitation.

Probation in Texas has existed in some form since 1913. Prior to this date, if a defendant was convicted of a criminal offense the sentencing authority had one of two options- the judge could assess penitentiary time or a jury could recommend that no punishment be assessed. Since 1913 the laws establishing and regulating the probation system in Texas have undergone several significant revisions.

In 1935 an amendment was added to the Texas Constitution to affirm what prior case law had already authorized and state statute had codified under the Suspended Sentence Act of 1925, i.e., that the Courts of the State of Texas having original jurisdiction of criminal actions had the power, after conviction, to suspend the imposition or execution of sentence, place the defendant on probation, and re-impose such sentence, under such conditions as the legislature prescribed. The State Legislature continued to modify the adult probation system with the Adult Probation and Parole Law of 1947 and of 1957.

In 1965 the state legislature completely rewrote the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, including the laws applicable to adult probation. …

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