Who Should Pay For the Criminal Justice System?

by TChris

Thanks to Adam Liptak for calling attention to an underreported story and an underappreciated problem.

Almost every encounter with the criminal justice system these days can give rise to a fee. There are application fees and co-payments for public defenders. Sentences include court costs, restitution and contributions to various funds. In Washington State, people convicted of certain crimes are also charged $100 so their DNA can be put in a database. ...

The sums raised by these ever-mounting fees are intended to help offset some of the enormous costs of operating the criminal justice system. But even relatively small fees -- $40 per session, say, for a court-ordered anger management class or $15 for a drug test -- can have devastating consequences for people who emerge from prison with no money, credit or prospects, and who live in fear of being sent back for failing to pay.

Governments increasingly balance their budgets by imposing "user fees" on the individuals it drags into the court system. Those individuals are disproportionately poor, and it isn't unusual for them to sit jail time in lieu of paying fines and court costs. Liberty should not depend on wealth, and we shouldn't impose hidden taxes on the people who can least afford to pay them.

Judge James R. Thurman of the Magistrate Court in Lee County, Ga., said his state's many fees, known there as add-ons, were a backdoor way to make poor people pay for the free lawyers guaranteed to them by the United States Supreme Court's decision in Gideon v. Wainwright in 1963.

"You're asking the people who can't afford to hire an attorney to pay anyway by making them pay through add-on fees," Judge Thurman said.

Indeed, according to the American Bar Association, at least 15 states, including New Jersey and Connecticut, charge application fees to people seeking court-appointed lawyers

Washington denies the right to vote -- a right as precious as liberty -- to people who haven't paid their court debts. Why should the right to vote depend on afflluence?

Defendants placed on supervision get stuck with supervision fees, money they could be spending on rent or tuition or gas. Liptak quotes a defendant who sums up the justifiable frustration of those who enter the criminal justice system:

"Society's interest is in an ex-con becoming solvent and in becoming a contributing member of society," Mr. Rideau said. "They created this court-costs sham to sabotage my efforts to create a life."

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    Re: Who Should Pay For the Criminal Justice System (none / 0) (#1)
    by ltgesq on Wed Feb 22, 2006 at 10:15:53 PM EST
    if indigent, they should bear no cost. Often defendants are found indigent merely to move the case along faster. The i find the charging of exhorbitant telephone fees to prisoner's families to be the most cruel aspect of the attempt to make money from defendants. In my jursidiction a telephone call costs 15 dollars and works out to about 2.75 per minute. If you do not have good credit, you need to purchase time ahead of time. Oft times it is the defendant's own family that was the victim of the crime, and is now being victimized by the telephone bills. Also, these calls are only able to be made to a land line -- which is increasinly rare amoung the poor. Any student of the criminal jsutice system will tell you that the surest way to lessen recidivism is to make sure the inmate has a family structure to return to after incarceration. The excessive fees of the collect calls from jails does more to separate the inmate from his family than any other issue.

    Bush is a criminal rat so is he paying out any money? after we is a mass murdering low life and what about the selling of our port system to known terrorists, highest bidder is bush's real name and criminal all the way for bin laden and fox.

    You have to remember that most of the time the criminal justice system is about the providing the "illusion" of public safety rather than providing actually providing public safety. The politicians will tell us that having more people in prison makes us safer. They fail to tell us that our wallets are not safe. Prisons (at least in the South) provide absolutely no rehabilitation. There is usually no meaningful drug or sex offender treatment programs in prison. Property crimes have the lowest incarceration lengths, although they affect the most number of citizens and have the highest recidivism rates. Prisons are just for warehousing people, guaranteeing that when than the people get out they automatically return. Ex-prisoners have to pay fees for their own "supervision". Treatment programs are assigned when the ex-prisoners are on parole or probation. These "programs" do have significant fees and strict attendance requirements associated with them. Both which affect the ex-prisoners ability to survive on the outside. Employment has to be scheduled around these "treatment programs" further limiting already limited employment opportunities. The System understands this since underlining goal is to get ex-prisoners to return to prison.

    Remember the "good ole daze" when people worked for 'the man' their entire life? Well, we're back to that. The old song "I owe my soul to the company store" is back. And just because it's the government doesn't change much either. Historically, government has always been the tool of the wealthy. Keep the masses poor and in debt and offer them the 'opportunity' to 'work off their debt' and you have the equation for the return of lifetime 'indentured servitude'. That's what this country was built upon: indentured servants and slaves. Wasn't it wonderful back then!

    Re: Who Should Pay For the Criminal Justice System (none / 0) (#5)
    by Edger on Thu Feb 23, 2006 at 05:58:45 AM EST
    The old song "I owe my soul to the company store" is back.
    Whether we live our lives as free individuals, or as collectivized subjects, depends on nothing so much as the state of our minds. If daily reports of suicide bombers, racial and ethnic genocide, religious groups killing one another, and governments insisting upon hundreds of billions of more tax dollars for more violent weapons of mass destruction, teach us nothing else, it should be this: human society is being destroyed by the content of our thinking.
    On Reclaiming Self-Ownership

    Re: Who Should Pay For the Criminal Justice System (none / 0) (#6)
    by jimakaPPJ on Thu Feb 23, 2006 at 07:38:34 AM EST
    Et al - I agree that the use of fees and use specific taxes has increased and in some cases has become a cottage industry fueled by the fees. The counter argument is that it is targeted at the user who wants, or must have, a certain service. I think this runs counter to democracy. If society as a whole wants driver training for people who have speeding tickets, then society as a whole should pay for it and government should provide the service. And that includes management. No out sourcing. edger - As someone who was born to a sharecropper and raised poorer than 99.9% of those who read this blog could possibly understand, the US today doesn't even approach what it was 60 to 80 years ago. And that doesn't mean that we're perfect, just a note that over statements don't help any argument. rimchamp77 - The FIT tax rates on the individual is less now than it was in 1980. A family of four pays no taxes on income of about $38,200 and below. What has increased is the availability of credit, and the belief that the Preamble says, "Life, Liberty and all the toys I want when I want'em." Tear up that credit card and pay cash. Ltgesq - The problem with cell phones is that there is not a method by which a prisoner's family, who use cell phone only, can accept a collect call. (No technical reason, it is a service that isn't provided. Maybe there is a business opportunity there.) Telephone cards are available at reasonable prices. 200 minutes for $20. A prisoner's family could give them one and he could call using it. What you see here is just inertia. It was always done that way, so it continues. But, since many prisoners have used phones to commit more crimes, you would need number screening on the prison equipment that would be programmed. I.e. Prisoner A has his families and his attorney's programmed in. All others are blocked. Individual number restriction will cost money. Perhaps we could place a fee on... ;-)

    I think this runs counter to democracy. If society as a whole wants driver training for people who have speeding tickets, then society as a whole should pay for it and government should provide the service. And that includes management. No out sourcing.
    Jim, I couldn't agree with you more. Very well stated.

    reminds me of the scene in the movie Brazil, where they´re going to start torturing the Jonathon Pryce character, and the guard helpfully tells him, "don´t hold out too long, it could effect your credit rating..." If you haven´t seen the movie in awhile, check it out. Unbelievably prescient.

    Re: Who Should Pay For the Criminal Justice System (none / 0) (#9)
    by libdevil on Thu Feb 23, 2006 at 10:37:20 AM EST
    I think the court costs are also used as a form of lazy lawmaking. The fine for my 'failure to yield' (aka driving with an out of state license plate) was all of like $20. The court costs, charged for the effort of somebody opening an envelope, depositing my check, and checking off my name on a computerized list somewhere, were around $115. Lawmakers are just to lazy to change the fines to keep up with the times, so they allow some flunky somewhere in the bowels of state government to impose whatever 'court costs' seem like a good idea.

    Interesting related story on NPR this AM. Apparently the New Orleans Pub Def office is funded to a large degree by revenues from local traffic tickets. Since these tickets are as rare as hen's teeth these days, a bunch of Pub Defender's have been laid-off. Trouble is, w/o council, the defendants can't be tried and they're just sitting in jail.

    I agree, I assume/hope they prioritize the defendants.

    Re: Who Should Pay For the Criminal Justice System (none / 0) (#14)
    by kdog on Thu Feb 23, 2006 at 11:12:25 AM EST
    I hope the people stuck in cages in NO without access to a lawyer or the courts aren't innocent, and can't get released due to the backlog.

    Re: Who Should Pay For the Criminal Justice System (none / 0) (#15)
    by jimakaPPJ on Thu Feb 23, 2006 at 11:27:59 AM EST
    narius - Well, they may very well, and this is a perfect example of why "fee funding" is wrong. I repeat. All government functions should be paid for by taxes. Fines, etc., should be given to the government as plain revenue.

    I hope they don't have to let out really dangerous criminals because of this.
    I agree, I assume/hope they prioritize the defendants.
    I hope they receive competent council and a fair trial since they are entitled to both.

    macro, I missed much of the clip, but I think they were talking about releasing, and I assume dropping the charges of, at least some of the defendants w/o trial. kdog, did you mean to write what you wrote?

    Re: Who Should Pay For the Criminal Justice System (none / 0) (#18)
    by kdog on Thu Feb 23, 2006 at 11:49:36 AM EST
    I mangled that one sarc..I need to proofread more. I meant to express my hope that the lack of lawyers isn't causing a delay in the realease of the wrongly incarcerated, or causing a delay in the processing of minor crimes. It would be pretty harsh to be stuck in a cage for a month for simple mj possesion or public intoxication. In other words, I hope nobody gets lost in the shuffle of the system. Just supplying the flip side to your and narius's coin. Letting dangerous violent criminals out is bad, I agree, but so is keeping non-violent petty offenders in.

    kdog, you'll get no arguement from me.

    ...although, it doesn't seem fair that there was no shortage of PD's when I got popped for PI in NO back in the day...

    ok so if we! do it like mexico pay as you go kind of system, so what is to stop mass camp system from being setup? for forced labor? after bush can be just one more Tyrant like the guys he deals with each day you know? "dubious guys", dealing for our mass deaths. Read Howard Bloom on bush and business. and read Charlie Smith and Jerome Corsi. Read understand and live, but most people will just look and talk away to be murdered by guys like Bush, and business.

    Re: Who Should Pay For the Criminal Justice System (none / 0) (#22)
    by Jlvngstn on Thu Feb 23, 2006 at 12:54:33 PM EST
    PPJ you make a great victim. Poorer than 99.9%, just like your usual assertions, unfounded and entirely unprovable. I would be willing to bet that I grew up poorer than you. I can't speak for the other 99.8% of the folks on this site but i would be willing to bet there are others here who grew up poor, not middle class, but "shining shoes in bars at 10 years old for food money poor". The mandatory counseling for drug/alcohol offenses can be debilitating for some people especially when they are sentence to 6 months to a year of $150 a week classes. 150 a week for someone making 20k a year is half of their take home pay. Try feeding a kid on that and pay rent and utilities.

    Re: Who Should Pay For the Criminal Justice System (none / 0) (#23)
    by kdog on Thu Feb 23, 2006 at 01:25:43 PM EST
    Well said J. Court ordered counseling could lead those ordered to attend (and pay) to a life of crime!

    I was convicted of my third dui in Colorado(in fifteen years) in 2002. Not only was I sentenced to a mandatory year in jail, but to reinstate my DL, I am supposed to do 8 months of classes, carry the higher rate SR22 insurance and have a breathylzer on my vehicle(for a minimum 1 year. I'm on social security disablity and receive about $1000 monthly. Needless to say I need my vehicle, but I am just barely getting by as it is now. Please don't lecture me on the drinking and driving , I am just posting this as an example of the subject. I have my own opinions on the whole alcohol issue in this country.

    Re: Who Should Pay For the Criminal Justice System (none / 0) (#25)
    by jimakaPPJ on Thu Feb 23, 2006 at 03:41:56 PM EST
    Jlvngstn - If you don't believe that I grew up poor there is nothing I can do to prove it. But you know, since my very first comment was to agree that we don't need fees, I have no reason as to why you attack outside of a desire to be disagreeable.

    Re: Who Should Pay For the Criminal Justice System (none / 0) (#26)
    by Johnny on Thu Feb 23, 2006 at 08:44:04 PM EST
    Of course, if we're gonna play the ol' "I come from poverty" game, ya'll should take a drive through Pine Ridge.

    Re: Who Should Pay For the Criminal Justice System (none / 0) (#27)
    by Johnny on Thu Feb 23, 2006 at 08:50:55 PM EST
    OT, I agree with Jim about the pay the piper thing. Most Americans, whether dem or rep, lib or con, want everything. None of us, by and large, are happy when presented with the pricetag. Related in a roundabout way are truck drivers and road taxes. Almost universally, people yell about road construction and potholes, traffic jams. Sometimes I can almost feel the wistful longing for a free marker driven society that some republicans and most libertarians profess to endorse... Then again, left to it's own devices, business has never, ever, ever proven itself a friend of the people. Ever. So toss that. OT again... Putative damages extorted from criminals families are a travesty, period. Then again, as our more neanderthal members will state: "They should think of that before they commit the crime." Same people who shout about victims rights, willingly seem to ignore the victims created within the criminals own circle. Locking a man up for five years does irreperable harm to his children, yet we charge them bookoo bucks to talk to them. Disgraceful.

    Re: Who Should Pay For the Criminal Justice System (none / 0) (#28)
    by jimakaPPJ on Fri Feb 24, 2006 at 05:39:35 AM EST
    Johnny - Poor doesn't manufacture criminals. What does, I don't know. The crimes of poor people versus rich people seem to be diffferent in that poor people commit crimes against individuals at a higher rate than rich, but the rich seem to commit crimes against groups - bank fraud, stock fraud. I think that goes to availability. If you're not the CFO it's hard to cook the books, but you can fnd a Quicki Mart on every other corner. What does manufacture criminals is drug use and drug laws. Maybe a new slogan would be: "Let's shut down the prisons. Just say no." Jlvngstn - Poor? Match this. When I was a boy, if my Mama threw a chicken bone out the back door the dog had to signal for a fair catch.

    Re: Who Should Pay For the Criminal Justice System (none / 0) (#29)
    by kdog on Fri Feb 24, 2006 at 06:11:01 AM EST
    What does manufacture criminals is drug use
    This is true...I got high last night, blacked out, and woke up with 3 stolen cars in my driveway and a closet full of stolen purses.

    Re: Who Should Pay For the Criminal Justice System (none / 0) (#30)
    by jimakaPPJ on Fri Feb 24, 2006 at 06:20:47 AM EST
    kdog "......and then there came a knock on the door.' ;-)

    Re: Who Should Pay For the Criminal Justice System (none / 0) (#31)
    by Johnny on Fri Feb 24, 2006 at 06:43:48 AM EST
    I never mentioned being poor causes criminals, but since you brought it up... Poverty and crime go hand in hand. Crimes are usually acts of desperation. Rich and otherwise well-off people usually commit far, far fewer crimes. Give people a reason to feel contented and they will behave better. Promise them a future and they will strive for it. Deliver on that future and they willf all down and worship you. That is why Marx called religion the opiate of the masses. Keep a promise of a glorious reward planted firmly in the future, remind them of the consequences should they stray, and you have a disturbing yet effective means at controlling people. The american dream bypasses the religious part and substitutes economic promises... Work hard, pay attention, worship your boss... And you will owna house by the lake. Remember the price for straying, you willbe locked upa nd your family ruined and your chances of you or your family ever regaining any sense of normalcy is shot out the window. There goes little jimmy, his dad did 5 years for drugs! Do you knwo what that means? That means he was pushing drugs onto little kids at the park! The acorn falls not far from the tree. Putative damages are a travesty. Period.

    Re: Who Should Pay For the Criminal Justice System (none / 0) (#32)
    by Jlvngstn on Fri Feb 24, 2006 at 07:19:02 AM EST
    PPJ - Because in typical fashion, you make a grossly unprovable assertion "I grew up poorer than 99.9% of the people on this site". Sometimes I take issue with where you stand on things, but mostly I abhor your extraneous and ignorant remarks. The chicken bone and fair catch story is great, did you have 8 siblings around you all trying to make the fair catch? Did you have to work since you were 10 years old, every day after school making jewelry from the time you got home until 10 p.m., when you had to do your homework? Did you have to start work every saturday and sunday at 7, have a 15 minute breakfast, 15 minute lunch and a 30 minute dinner until work was finished at 10 p.m? And did you and your 8 siblings have to do this from the age of 10 until the age of 18 because you were so poor it was the only way to pay the rent and eat? Did you have gravy bread for dinner for months on end? Or when the times were good, beans with a hamhock in it? How about 14 people living in a 3 bedroom apartment? Were you ever evicted? Several times? Just curious as to what the definition of poor is.