By Andy Metzger STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, DEC. 15, 2016…Inmates released from prison who are placed on probation should not need to pay fees for their supervision, the chief justice of the district court said Wednesday.
“The imposition of a fee at that point in time, a probation fee, is counter to rehabilitative efforts, and we’ve seen some evidence it interferes with employment, with housing,” District Court Chief Justice Paul Dawley told the Governor’s Council during a hearing.
Dawley led a court system working group on judicial reforms, producing a report Nov. 17 that the chief justice said had been shared with Gov. Charlie Baker, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stan Rosenberg.
“It’s been positively received by all three,” Dawley said Wednesday.
The Big Three have also collaborated with Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants on developing a justice system reform package for next session.
Policymakers are eyeing ways to reduce recidivism, cut down on incarceration and related costs, and deliver more supports to individuals before and after they are released from jails and prisons. Revenue constraints loom as a potential obstacle to more expansive pre- and post-incarceration services, as state officials are in the midst of a midyear budget reductions and the appetite for new or higher taxes on Beacon Hill appears low.
On Tuesday the Jobs Not Jails coalition rallied in Boston for the elimination of mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug crimes while worrying that the coming reforms would only result in “tinkering” with the laws and changes to probation and parole.
On Wednesday, appearing on behalf of attorney Sarah Ellis’s nomination to the Woburn District Court, Dawley said state laws currently force the assessment of certain fees on defendants regardless of their ability to pay.
“There are some statutes that exist now that make it very difficult for judges,” Dawley told Councilor Robert Jubinville. “In fact there are some statutes, as you know, that take away any discretion of the judge to actually waive a fee or fine. The law is very clear.”
The working group suggested new court policies and proposed legislation in response to recommendations from the U.S. Department of Justice, which concluded that the criminal justice system in Ferguson, Missouri had “deprived people of their constitutional rights to due process, equal protection, and other federal protections.”
In public speeches, Gants has also questioned the fees imposed on defendants.
According to the working group, people placed on probation are charged either $65 or $50 per month. In some cases, defendants released from incarceration can be assessed monthly fees for both parole and probation supervision, according to the report.
The group, which was led by Dawley and counted Ellis as a member, recommended the court explore the feasibility of allowing defendants to establish payment plans, develop a remote-access electronic payment system, and adopt a policy requiring judges to appoint attorneys for indigent defendants in proceedings when the enforcement of fees and fines related to a criminal case could lead to incarceration.
A person can be incarcerated for non-payment when a judge finds the person was able to pay and willfully failed to pay, according to the report, which says “the judge should consider alternatives to incarceration.”
In fiscal 2016, the Trial Court collected $99.9 million in fines, fees and court costs in 30 collection categories, while also assessing $73.9 million in restitution, and ordering $1.4 million in forfeited bail money turned over to the General Fund.
“There’s no judge in our system that wants to sit there all day and collect money,” Dawley said.
Jubinville recalled a time he spent in court in recent months where he saw a judge repeatedly order people to be locked up for failure to make payments.
“Five straight people got locked up in a row,” Jubinville said. “I said to the court officer sitting next to me, ‘This is like the French revolution. Step up and off with their heads. Into the lock-up.'”
The working group suggested changes to the “several statutes” that prohibit judges from ordering waivers on specific fines and fees. As an example of a non-waivable fee it would like to see changed, the group noted a $250 head injury assessment for driving under the influence of drugs or liquor.
The group wants changes to a law last amended in 1987 that applies to people incarcerated for failing to pay fines. Current law allows people to “work off” the amount they owe, receiving $30 off the balance owed for every day incarcerated. The working group calculated that $30 in 1987 would be worth $64.21 today. The working group also recommended development of a single standard that could be used by a judge in determining whether to waive a fee based on a person’s inability to pay.
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b. THE CHALLENGE: The bill they file will likely NOT strong enough and focus on probation, parole, and recidivism. It will likely ignore the repeal of long mandatory minimum sentences on non-violent drug offenders etc.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
1. Attend the Rally / Press Conference on December 13 at 10:00.
2. Contact your legislators and/or come to the Jobs Not Jails Lobby Day in January – ask that they co-sponsor the omnibus criminal justice reform bill, The Justice Reinvestment Act, which will include the Jobs Not Jails Priorities. More details to come – filing deadline is Jan 20
3. In March 2017, the coalition will organize six major public action meetings in Boston, Brockton, New Bedford, Worcester, Springfield, Lynn, Lowell to show large-scale public support from major criminal justice reform and engage legislators, mayor, sheriffs, police chiefs.
This opinion piece — “MA is MIA on criminal justice reform” — in The Boston Globe on July 17, 2016, highlights how Massachusetts lacks one comprehensive system to collect and analyze data on our justice and corrections systems. With a common tool, all of the various agencies — the 14 jails jails, state Department of Corrections, sex offender registry, local and state police and more — could all share data for the common good.
Other states, such as Colorado, have invested in such technology, which officials and electeds from across the state meet monthly to analyze for economies of scale, service delivery, cost/benefit savings and more.
Right now, a working group appointed by Gov. Baker is working with the Council of State Governments [CSG] to evaluate the Massachusetts justice and corrections systems to make recommendations for legislative reform in Jan. 2017. A chronic complaint by the working group is the lack of accurate data. It’s ironic that the bureaucrats and electeds who have created, maintained and defend the broken system, now attack the poor data the CSG researchers present as indicators for needed reform. This article highlights the value of good data.
By Stephen Goldsmith and Jane Wiseman
LOCKING UP MILLIONS of Americans costs a lot of money. It comes with devastating social consequences. And it has produced a vast archipelago of institutions at the local, state, and federal level that’s too complicated for even those who administer small corners of it to understand in full.
The White House’s newly announced Data-Driven Justice Initiative aims to tackle these interwoven problems simultaneously by reducing the number of criminal defendants held in our local jails on pretrial detention orders. Seven states and 60 counties across the country have signed up so far.
Notably absent from this coalition: Massachusetts, which continues its silence on the critical issue of local criminal justice reform.
One of the cornerstones of data-driven justice is the use of risk assessment in the pretrial process — to keep dangerous defendants in jail awaiting trial and let low-risk ones remain in the community, staying connected to family and work, and paying their rent and their taxes. Keeping low-risk defendants out of jail awaiting trial has been shown to result in less crime and lower costs — in short, good government.
A thoughtful and ambitious bill crafted by Representative Tom Sannicandro of Ashland and Senator Ken Donnelly of Arlington would finally incorporate data into the pretrial decision-making process and bring Massachusetts in line with this growing reform movement. The bill is long overdue — the current statute governing bail and pretrial in Massachusetts dates to 1836. A hodgepodge of updates has been made over the years, but the law is in need of a total overhaul.
Beacon Hill should move on this timely and important legislation. Delay in moving to data-driven justice increases crime and cost and decreases fairness in our administration of justice.
The decision about release or detention should be based on a defendant’s risk of flight and likelihood of committing a crime before trial. Analyzing existing data about the defendant’s risk is far more objective than the current methods, too often a judge’s best guess about the defendant’s risk and a defendant’s ability to scrounge up bail money.
The tragic murder of Jennifer Martel at the hands of Jared Remy demonstrates the horrific result when data are not used in pretrial release decisions. Remy had 20 prior arrests, mostly for violent offenses. Yet a few days before he killed his girlfriend, after being arrested on assault charges, he paid a $40 fee and was released on his own recognizance.
For every Jared Remy, there are just as many indigent nonviolent offenders incarcerated for minor drug or petty larceny charges who cannot scrape together bail money and sit in our local jails while posing no threats to our communities.
How do data help? By looking at factual prior records and current circumstances, judges can have objective information to guide the decision about pretrial release. Data are blind to famous names and expensive lawyers. Nor are data swayed by a defendant’s ability to make bail.
Jurisdictions that do use data to make pretrial decisions have achieved greater fairness, lower crime, and lower costs. Washington, D.C., releases 85 percent of defendants awaiting trial. Compared to the national average, those released in D.C. are two and a half times more likely to remain arrest free and one a half times as likely to show up for court. The results are lower jail costs and lower crime.
This approach can also help stamp out some of the inequity in the criminal justice system because we know that under the current approach defendants who already have advantages (higher income, employment, stable housing, etc.) are released more often than those with fewer advantages (lower income, ethnic or racial minority, etc.), even for the same crime.
Data-driven justice is also cheaper. Defendants released on their own recognizance cost essentially nothing. For a defendant released and supervised while awaiting trial, the cost is 90 percent lower than the cost to incarcerate. How much could be saved by moving to risk-based pretrial decision-making? Experts say that up to 25 percent of those detained pretrial might be safely released.
While precise estimates are difficult to determine, assuming Massachusetts mirrors the national rate incarcerating 60 percent of criminal defendants while awaiting trial, data driven reforms in line with this new White House initiative have the possibility of saving taxpayers anywhere from $60 million to $150 million annually. One of the few states to quantify the value is Kentucky, which saves $100 million a year with risk-based pretrial decision-making.
With Governor Charlie Baker and State House leaders looking to fill a significant budget gap, we can’t think of a better way to save Massachusetts taxpayers millions annually while reforming a broken system that perpetuates inequality and does little to protect the public’s safety.
Stephen Goldsmith is the director of the Innovations in American Government Program at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center. He previously served as a prosecutor in Marion County, Ind. Jane Wiseman is a senior fellow at the Ash Center. Previously she served as assistant secretary of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety.