|Identify state and local laws and policies that address court orders for child support, victim restitution, and other fines, fees, and surcharges and determine how these laws and policies are used to govern collections made from people released from prisons and jails.|
|Organize this information into three types of documents that policymakers can use to develop a strategic plan: reports, case studies, and diagrams.|
Answers to the questions of the working group will likely generate a lot of information that may be difficult for other members of the group to analyze. To organize this information in a meaningful way, the working group should develop three types of documents: reports, case studies, and diagrams.1
To answer the questions about relevant laws and policies, members of the working group should prepare reports that provide an inventory or analysis of specific governing authorities and practices. For example, in a given jurisdiction these reports could cover the range of state and local fines, fees, and surcharges; child support policies relating to people who are incarcerated or recently released from prisons and jails; and/or the percentage of all financial obligations assessed that is successfully collected.
Court Costs and Fees Study, Sunset Advisory Commission, Texas
In 2005, the Texas legislature reviewed the collections practices of courts statewide and found that the courts were unable to provide information about what percentage of the total court fines and fees assessed were actually collected. To gather this information, the legislature required the Sunset Advisory Commission, a legislative review body, to study the purpose, collection, and use of court costs and fees. In its report to the legislature, the commission listed state and local court costs and fees and provided a series of case studies illustrating the costs associated with various offenses, including a minor traffic violation and a driving while intoxicated offense.2
The working group should develop one or more case studies to ground its discussion and connect the various types of financial obligations owed by people released from prisons and jails with people’s ability to meet their obligations to victims and families. A case study should describe a typical person released from prison or jail and list the types of court-ordered financial obligations that he or she would owe for a common conviction, such as driving while intoxicated (DWI), larceny, or assault.
In addition to criminal sanctions, the case study should describe the individual’s child support obligations, if any. Together, these will illustrate the types of courtordered financial obligations that an individual would be trying to meet during the period of his or her sentence.
Court-Ordered Financial Obligations Case Study, Center for Community Alternatives, New York
The Center for Community Alternatives developed the following case study, based on New York law, to illustrate all of the court-ordered financial obligations that an individual would make payments toward during the period of his sentence. These include the fines, fees, surcharges, and restitution associated with his conviction, and his weekly child support payments.3
John, age 29, had recently been released from jail when, after refusing a chemical test, he was convicted of driving while intoxicated, a class E felony, and driving with no insurance, a misdemeanor. He was sentenced to 5 years of probation. Restitution was ordered for damage to a parked car. John also has two children, who were placed into the custody of his mother while John was in jail. John's mother received Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) and was required to petition John for child support. John had to meet the following court-ordered financial obligations during the period of his probation sentence:
To complement the case study above, the working group should develop a diagram that illustrates the collections practices of multiple agencies and their relationships to each other. Including details in the chart, such as how each agency establishes payment schedules and amounts, the degree to which they coordinate their collections efforts, how collections are prioritized, and how dollars are disbursed to their intended recipients would be particularly useful to working group partners.
Multiagency Collections Diagram, Travis County, Texas
CSG Justice Center staff and consultants prepared a diagram (featured on the following page) to illustrate the relationships between the multiple agencies responsible for collecting court-ordered financial obligations from people released from prisons and jails in a sample jurisdiction.
In addition to a diagram of the relationships among multiple agencies, it would be useful to depict the collections practices within a particular agency, such as how the probation department or court assesses an individual’s ability to meet his or her financial obligations, establishes payment schedules, notifies individuals of payments due, and handles instances of nonpayment.
Single Agency Collections Diagram, Collections Improvement Program, Office of Court Administration, Texas
To illustrate the principles of its Collections Improvement Program, the Texas Office of Court Administration developed a diagram depicting the course of action that court administrators take at each juncture in the collections process, beginning with determining whether an individual is able to pay in full at sentencing, and ending with the consequences of noncompliance with the court's orders.4
1 Although policymakers in numerous states have engaged in answering some of these questions, none has completed all of the steps listed here. This recommendation draws heavily on the experiences of two of these states: Texas and New York.
2 Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Board of Pardons and Paroles, Correctional Managed Health Care Committee, Staff Report: Court Costs and Fees Study (Austin, Tex.: Sunset Advisory Commission, 2006).
3 This case study was reprinted with permission by The Center for Community Alternatives. It also informed a broader report that the New York Bar Association submitted to the state legislature on the various consequences of criminal proceedings on reentry. To retrieve the full report, entitled Re-Entry and Reintegration: The Road to Public Safety, Report and Recommendations of the Special Committee on Collateral Consequences of Criminal Proceedings, see www.nysba.org.
4 The Collections Improvement Program flowchart can be retrieved at www.courts.state.tx.us/oca/collections/docs/model_concept_flowchart.pdf.