♫ He’s so fined ♪

Dec 30th, 2013 | By | Category: Jails, Paco's Podium, Parole, Parole Reform, Spotlight
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Getting blood from a stone is easy compared to getting an offender to pay fines, penalties and restitution.

Getting blood from a stone is easy compared to getting an offender to pay fines, penalties and restitution.

Local courts reviving ‘debtors’ prison’ for overdue fines, fees

Kelley Beaucar Vlahos | Fox News

As if out of a Charles Dickens novel, people struggling to pay overdue fines and fees associated with court costs for even the simplest traffic infractions are being thrown in jail across the United States.

Critics are calling the practice the new “debtors’ prison” — referring to the jails that flourished in the U.S. and Western Europe over 150 years ago. Before the time of bankruptcy laws and social safety nets, poor folks and ruined business owners were locked up until their debts were paid off…

Advocates are trying to convince courts that aside from the legal questions surrounding the practice, it is disproportionately jailing poor people and doesn’t even boost government revenues — in fact, governments lose money in the process.

“It’s a waste of taxpayer resources, and it undermines the integrity of the justice system,” Carl Takei, staff attorney for the ACLU’s National Prison Project, told FoxNews.com.

“The problem is it’s not actually much of a money-making proposition … to throw people in jail for fines and fees when they can’t afford it. If counties weren’t spending the money jailing people for not paying debts, they could be spending the money in other ways…”(Full text at Fox News)

Paco chose to highlight this article as it underscores the absolutely dysfunctional fine, restitution and penalty practices of the criminal justice system.

As a parole agent, I would review the abstract of judgement and other Court documents to assess an offender’s financial liability to the system and victims. Efforts to pay the debt(s) would be documented on the parolee’s discharge review–With the exception of parolees applying for interstate transfer, I can’t recall a single offender who paid up. (The Interstate Compact requires clear fines and restitution to complete a transfer.)

Virtually every offender in the system has an outstanding court fine or fee amounting to (at least) several hundred dollars–A substantial number have fines and restitution orders ranging from a few thousand to several million dollars. Again, few ever pay and, excepting Interstate Transfers, CDCR makes no effort to collect fines or fees.

Add to the mix the fact a majority accrued years of child support obligations during incarceration and it’s clear most parolees are burdened by judicial debts they will never be able to pay–Especially since the DMV suspends the driver’s licenses of child support flake’s at the behest of the county welfare agencies, rendering employment all but impossible.

If society truly wants offenders to reform, we must give them a decent chance.  A pile of debt with few job prospects and no drivers license is a recipe for failure.

Perhaps it is time for the Court to means test when assessing fines and penalties.  Fining hobos $10,000 is an exercise both in futility and make-work.  Disgraced politicians and white-collar criminals who have the means should be the subject of such penalties.

With all due respect and deference to victims of crime but, face it, you will never see a penny of the restitution order.  Supposing the creep who stole your life savings actually wanted to make you whole, the criminal justice system is here to prevent it.  Then again, if victims are willing to drive their assailants to work…

In a fair world, offenders would have the wherewithal to repay the system and victims alike–In this world the overwhelming majority can do neither, and never will.

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9 Comments to “♫ He’s so fined ♪”

  1. Boxter says:

    Thank you, and to you as well.

  2. Boxter says:

    Back in the day, when I was then a probation officer, we locked up people for failing to pay restitution, both victim and restitution fines. Before the court revoked an offender’s probation, the judge would schedule an Order to Show Cause hearing. Essentially, it was just that: An offender would have to explain to the judge why he or she was not in compliance with the court’s restitution order and “show cause” why probation should not be revoked. We had a Revenue Recovery Officer who went for straight for the financial juggler. Restitution–failure to pay, that is–was a serious matter. I still believe it’s important, but it would take an act of Congress to get parole agents, myself included, to follow up with restitution compliance. It’s not that I don’t care, but this department keeps me so dang busy killing trees; being an accountant; talking nice to mistreated clients who weren’t breast fed as newborns; discussing with and having these “clients”–ahem; oops, I mean convicted felons–sign goals and objectives. Parole agents are then expected to shower a client with glittering words of Hallmark affirmation even when they don’t complete the agreed to tasks. “It’s okay, t’s not your fault; actually, I’m very proud of you for injecting meth only 3 times this week, and not seven; let’s see if we can improve next quarter. And if I see improvement, we will have a community celebration in your name. What’s more, I will prepare an attractive spreadsheet on Excel to prove, via empirical data, of course, that you are truly a success. If you fail to meet the goals and objectives as we have outlined in your parole program, it won’t be a violation. After all, this is voluntary, you see.” And so ends another day making a meaningful contribution in this profession. Point of my novel is, I’m doing the work, seeing my people, and will bend over backward for them if I see evidence they are really trying to redeem themselves. Yes, in a perfect world, it would be nice to arrest, have a hammer, conduct searches, and even monitor restitution balances. The department has simply created too much busyness in this business. Public safety and genuine concern for the safety of those of us out there flying solo every day? At the very least, they are long-distant afterthoughts to our esteemed leaders. For me personally, Acid Reflux comes to mind.

    • pacovilla says:

      This is, without doubt, one of the most poignant comments here to date. My only criticism is the lack of paragraph breaks…You may need a new keyboard. :)

      Seriously, your comments reinforce the rightness of my decision to retire early–I had forgotten about all that goals and celebration crap they were pushing before I bailed.

      Happy New Year, my friend.

  3. JC says:

    No push back from me either. Mr. Walsh and Mr. Katz nailed the problem succinctly. Fines sound good, but good luck seeing it. The only good it ever did was tie up an inmate’s trust account, but again, as it was stated above, “squeezing blood from a turnip”. I view myself as a conservative, but a realist also. Demanding money from people who should be using (but won’t, but that’s the subject of an entirely different editorial by the contributors above) to put themselves, their current and ex-women, current and ex-children, in a better position, is counter-productive. Especially, when there is probably not even enough money for that even if the inmate/parolee’s stupid-a@# selves didn’t get in the way of their own rehabilitation…

  4. Howie Katz says:

    Let’s get real. At the time criminals are busted, most of them are in no position to pay those hefty fines or to make restitution. So, if some slob was not in a position to pay a fine or make restitution then, what makes anyone think they could do so when they are released from prison. I recall that most of my parolees were married with children and were barely able to provide support for their families, much less pay a fine or make restitution. And if they had to pay child support for children from a previous relationship, how in the hell would they be able to do that???

    Court imposition of those fines and restitution is a feel-good farce and the judges have to know that you can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip.

    And speaking of deadbeat dads, some are true deadbeats, but others are unable to make those child support payments because they simply do not have the means to do so.

  5. Bob Walsh says:

    I am bothered by these deadbeat criminals. I am also bothered by the essential lie that the system tells in imposing these fees and fines that everybody knows will almost certainly never be actually paid. Public policy should be based on reality. The reality is that this part of “the system” is a farce and pretending otherwise serves neither the victims nor society at large.

    • pacovilla says:

      Both you and Howie nailed it. Funny, I kinda thought I would get some push back on this one (not from either of you) but I guess it’s like Howie said, common sense tells most folks, “if some slob was not in a position to pay a fine or make restitution then, what makes anyone think they could do so when they are released from prison.”

      • Howie Katz says:

        Paco, let me add that the average convenience store robbery take is less than $900. The average bank robbery yields only a few thousand dollars. Although a burglar may steal several thousand dollars worth of TV sets, computers and other electronic gear from a house, he will realize only about 10 percent of that amount when disposing of his loot. In any case, the ill begotten robbery and burglary gains will not enable a parolee who is trying to support a wife and two or three kids to pay the fines and restitutions ordered by the courts or to make child support payments for the children of a prior relationship.

        If the courts or parole officials were to insist that those court ordered fines, restitution and/or child support payments be made, they would likely drive the parolee to commit the one crime that is truly profitable … the sales of pot, heroin, coke and meth.

        I don’t think that’s what the public wants.

        • pacovilla says:

          Good points. BTW, as a former convenience store flunky, I doubted the take was much more than a few hundred–We dropped all but around $100 plus the coins and could not open the safe at all. But, I did a little research and you are closer to the mark than my I thought. In 2012 the average take was reported at $769. (US NEWS: http://tinyurl.com/bphhcc5)

          This reminds me of something my JC business law instructor said in 1978: 1) Freedom is the most precious thing we have. 2) The average person will earn approximately 1 million dollars in their life, Therefore, 3) Risking one’s freedom for less than 1 million is idiotic.

          Doubtless it’s around 2 million now…

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