April 06, 2009
Courts Look to Fines and Fees in Tough Budget Times
Valerie Gainous paid her debt to society, but almost went to jail because of a debt to Florida’s courts.
In 1996, she was convicted of writing bad checks; she paid restitution, performed community service and thought she was finished with the criminal justice system. Earlier this year, however, she received a letter from Collections Court telling her that she was once again facing jail time — this time, for failing to pay $240 in leftover court fees and fines, which she says she cannot afford.
Ms. Gainous has been caught up in her state’s exceptionally aggressive system to collect the court fines and fees that keep its judiciary system working. Judges themselves dun citizens who have fallen behind in their payments, but unlike other creditors, they can throw debtors in jail — and they do, by the thousands.
As Florida’s budget has tightened with the economic crisis, efforts to step up the collections process have intensified, and court clerks say the pressure is on them to bring in every dollar. “I would say there is an even more dramatic focus on those funds now,” said Beth Allman, the spokeswoman for the Florida Association of Court Clerks.
Other states are intrigued by Florida’s success, and several, including Michigan and Georgia, have also cracked down on people who owe fines. John Dew, the executive director of the Florida Clerks of Court Operations Corporation, said that when he attends national conferences about fees collection these days, states “are really looking to what we’re doing in Florida.”
With 44 states looking at budget deficits totaling $90 billion this year, 25 state court systems already have budget shortfalls, said Dan Hall, the vice president of the National Center for State Courts. Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court told the American Bar Association in a recent speech that the state courts were in crisis because of budgetary and other issues.
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]
November 12, 2008
Cincinnati Patrols, a jail on cut list
Hamilton County's administration is recommending massive layoffs, departmental consolidation and severe public safety cuts to balance the bleakest budget in memory.
Administrator Patrick Thompson on Monday unveiled details of the 2009 plan, which would eliminate 532 county jobs - 18 percent of the county's general fund positions - by the end of February.
The plan would also close the 800-bed Queensgate jail by March and eliminate sheriff's patrols in the county's three largest townships, Green, Colerain and Anderson.
Public safety officials balked at the recommendations.
"The county administrator is jeopardizing the public safety of this county by recommending the cuts to the sheriff's office," said sheriff's spokesman Steve Barnett. Sheriff Simon Leis "is amazed and appalled that the county commissioners list their No.1 priority as public safety, yet on these cuts public safety is absorbing 38 to 40 percent of the cuts."
And, although commissioners insist public safety is a top priority, "there's only so much money to spend and when it's gone, it's gone," said Commission President Todd Portune. "This is an incredibly difficult process. I expect what is presented to us today is going to shock a number of people in terms of the cuts that might be recommended."
Because public safety makes up two-thirds of the county's overall budget, there's no way to balance it without hurting that area, commissioners said.
They stressed that these recommendations are not final. The three-member commission will hold public hearings, meet with department heads and revise the recommendations before adopting a final budget by the end of the year. [Mark Godsey]
September 26, 2008
North Charleston police take step into the future
The day when police can swipe a suspect's finger through a device and check him instantly against a nationwide criminal database, all while standing on a city street, may not be far off.
North Charleston Police Chief Jon Zumalt said a new handheld device his department acquired this week is a step in the right direction. The gadget looks like a BlackBerry wireless device and allows an officer to check a national database for warrants and vehicle information. Until now, police had to call dispatchers, costing valuable minutes.
"This is just the beginning," Zumalt said on Wednesday, as the device manufacturer trained his officers on the new equipment. "This is innovation. We're the first in the state to have this."
The gadget is made by an Atlanta-based company, the American Law Enforcement Network, or ALEN for short. The department purchased 10 handheld devices at just under $400 each. The city will have to pay about $30 in monthly subscription fees per unit.
Francine Karp, an ALEN operations manager, visited North Charleston for the training. A former police officer in Connecticut, Karp said she often pulled over vehicles without having a chance to learn the driver's criminal history until it was too late.
She said it's crucial to know that a car is associated with a violent felon, or has been reported stolen, before approaching the driver.
"It's literally walking into a very dangerous situation blindly," Karp said.
The device, developed about 2 1/2 years ago, is in use by about 500 departments in five states, she said. The North Charleston Police Department is the first South Carolina agency to get one.
Beyond wanted people and stolen vehicles, the device also lets officers look up hazardous materials on commercial trucks, and a range of other information.
Deputy Police Chief Reggie Burgess said he spent about two years working to bring the technology to North Charleston. For it to work, the State Law Enforcement Division had to allow the department to access the National Crime Information Center, U.S. law enforcement's central data depository. [Mark Godsey]
July 10, 2008
HIDDEN COSTS Communities Pay for High Prison Rate
Now 66 years old, Ms. Coleman has three youngsters at home -- ages 5, 3 and 1. She doesn't know the whereabouts of her granddaughter, who is their mother. As for the children's fathers, they have both been in trouble with the law. One is in prison serving a 10-year term for second-degree murder. The other has been in and out of jail on drug charges.
"I didn't intend to raise my great-grandkids," says Ms. Coleman, who relies on supplies of diapers and baby wipes from a local social-services center. "There are so many things I can't do for them because of money, but I have to try."
Here in South Mountain, a district in south Phoenix, more than 3,800 residents are displaced, serving time in prison or the county jail. For every 100 adults, 6.1 are behind bars. That's more than five times the national average of 1.09 per 100, according to a report by the Pew Center, a nonpartisan research group. Arizona has the fastest-growing prison population of the Western states, having increased 5.3% in 2007 to more than 38,000.
Behind those figures are many hidden, related costs -- financial burdens that communities are often left to manage. For every person who goes to jail, businesses lose either a potential employee or customer. Inmates' children often depend on extended families, rather than a parent, to raise them. With only so many government resources to go around, churches, volunteer programs and other groups must often step in to help.
In one nine-block stretch of central South Mountain, nearly 500 out of 16,000 residents are in the state system either as prisoners or as probationers who return regularly to jail. Prison costs associated with this nine-block area amount to roughly $11 million annually, according to an estimate from the Justice Mapping Center, a New York organization that examines crime patterns.
But the state spends more than half that amount -- an additional $6.5 million -- on social programs for the residents who remain. In that nine-block span, 2,000 people receive cash payments under the federal government's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Nearly 5,000 are on food stamps. Almost one-third of the residents live below the poverty level. The total cost of prison and social services combined: approximately $2 million per block. [Mark Godsey]
June 23, 2008
The Price of Leniency
The June 12 news story "New Criminal Record: 7.2 Million," on the number of people under supervision in the nation's criminal justice system, reported on the financial burden of running correctional systems without mentioning the savings resulting from crimes averted. Experience suggests that shortened sentences and reduced supervision of offenders released from prison carry a higher cost, especially in human terms, than the savings these shortsighted policies generate.
In 2006, the most recent year for which complete data are available, police received the fewest reports of violent crime and property crime since 1977. What was the cause? Research has shown that, with some exceptions, crime rates decline as the incarceration rate rises. In other words, while the number of people under correctional supervision has gone up, crime has gone down.
Research on state prisoners shows that among drug offenders, nearly 67 percent were rearrested within three years of release. For violent offenders, nearly 62 percent were rearrested within three years of release. Overall, more than 67 percent of prisoners were rearrested within three years for committing new offenses.
The cost of these new crimes goes beyond prisons. The most conservative estimate for the cost of violent and property crimes in the United States is more than $17 billion a year -- and that's just direct, immediate cost. This leaves out such costs as crime victims' struggle to be made whole.
Let there be no mistake -- releasing criminals early may help save money in the short term, but not in the long term. [Mark Godsey]
June 16, 2008
Ending a cycle of crime: Ex-cons get a helping hand
A new approach to parole in Arizona began with thousands of colored pushpins and a large state map. In 2003, prison officials set out to find new ways to keep released inmates from going back behind bars. So they began to map where the more than 30,000 Arizona inmates had lived before they were locked up and where they might return.
What they found were a handful of hot spots around the state, including south Phoenix - home to about 1 percent of the state's population but nearly 6.5 percent of state prisoners. The authorities reasoned that if they started in one ZIP code area, they could help stop the cycle of incarceration and slow soaring criminal-justice costs. They decided to revisit the old parole rules and find ways to change lives.
"Once you realize that a lot of people come back to a certain place, then every traditional rule about community supervision has to be challenged, and many we flat-out tossed away," explained Dora Schriro, director of the Arizona Department of Corrections. "It is not about us making it easier. It is about us getting smarter about what is necessary to succeed on supervision."
Last year, the Department of Corrections launched the Legacy Project, a pilot program in south Phoenix's 85041 ZIP code area, changing the way that parole officers supervise recently released prisoners. It was followed by a similar initiative, Maricopa County's 85041 Project, which has changed how people are supervised while on probation. [Mark Godsey]
May 29, 2008
Hire ex-con in Philly, get $10K annual tax credit
One-time thief Heber Nixon Jr. has filled out his share of futile job applications. All said being a felon wouldn't stand in his way _ but the promised calls from managers never came. He finally got a second chance when he showed up at a construction site looking for work and found a sympathetic builder. Now, the city of Philadelphia is making a concerted effort to encourage the hiring of ex-convicts amid a renewed interest nationwide in dealing with high recidivism, growing crime rates and exploding prison populations.
Philadelphia averaged a murder a day the past two years and has been sued to reduce its overcrowded, record-high jail population.
So on his 100th day in office last month, Mayor Michael Nutter announced a program, being headed by an ex-offender, that gives $10,000 a year in municipal tax credits to companies that hire former prisoners and provide them tuition support or vocational training.
"This is one of the best crime-prevention programs we'll ever have," he said.
Initiatives to help former prisoners re-enter society have become a renewed priority across the country as new data shine a spotlight on staggering rates of incarceration and recidivism.
For the first time in U.S. history, more than one of every 100 adults is in jail or prison, a study released in February found. Federal data show about 700,000 people are released from state and federal prisons each year. [Mark Godsey]
June 30, 2007
Report Shows Large Prison Inmate Growth
From reuters.com: The United States, which has the most prisoners of any country in the world, last year recorded the largest increase in the number of people in prisons and jails since 2000, the Justice Department reported on Wednesday.
It said the nation's prison and jail populations increased by more than 62,000 inmates, or 2.8 percent, to about 2,245,000 inmates in the 12-month period that ended on June 30, 2006. It was the biggest jump in numbers and percentage change in six years.
Criminal justice experts have attributed the record U.S. prison population to tough sentencing laws, record numbers of drug offenders and high crimes rates.
State or federal prisons held two-thirds of the nation's incarcerated population while local jails held the rest, according to the report by the department's Bureau of Justice Statistics.
The number of inmates in state prisons rose by 3 percent, the report said. That growth mainly reflected rising prison admissions, which have been going up faster than the number of released prisoners. Also, more parole violators have returned to prison, the report said.
Forty-two states and the federal system all had more inmates in June last year than the previous year. The number of jail inmates increased by 2.5 percent during the same 12-month period, the report said.
The report on U.S. prison numbers is issued every six months.
Jason Ziedenberg of the Justice Policy Institute, a group that seeks alternatives to incarceration, said the new numbers showed an "alarming growth" in an already overburdened prison system.
Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
November 22, 2006
UK: Police Urge State-funded Prescription of Heroin to Addicts
In England, senior police officer, Howard Roberts, urged the UK to follow Holland and Switzerland's lead and begin the state-funded (NHS-funded) prescription of heroin to addicts, in efforts to treat them and reduce crime. The program would cost £12,000 a year for each addict to be treated this way, but proponents believe the treatment would be cost-effective in the long run because users steal at least £45,000 worth of property a year to feed their addictions. Widespread trials of such programs in Holland and Switzerland show users turning away from crime to feed their habits when they were prescribed drugs. Story from IndependentOnline. Meanwhile, here in the U.S., debate continues (here and here) over Louisiana's controversial "heroin lifers" case. [Michele Berry]
October 20, 2006
$15 Million in Grants for Texas Anti-crime Programs & Criminal Justice Systems
Texas anti-crime and justice programs will receive nearly $15 million in grants to be shared by 53 Crime Stoppers programs and 122 other programs that concentrate on reducing crime and improving the Texas criminal and juvenile justice systems. The money is available under the state's Crime Stoppers Assistance Fund and the Criminal Justice Planning Fund. More from the Star-Telegram. . . [Michele Berry]
September 18, 2006
Packed Prisons, Solution-Stalement: Is the Eighth Amendment the Answer?
Stanford CrimProf Robert Weisberg, director of Stanford Law's Criminal Justice Center says "there's a general sense of caution on anything involving crime and prisons" in California. Three months ago, Gov. Schwarzenegger urged legislators to take action to resolve California's prison overpopulation and "deplorable inmate healthcare." But at the end of August, lawmakers adjourned for the year without addressing the system's myriad of problems. And while the legislators have gone home, prison officials warn they will run out of beds by June. Already inmates are stacked on double and triple-bunks in gymnasiums and day centers.
Steve Fama of the Prison Law Office is considering a federal lawsuit contending that overcrowding conditions amount to "cruel and unusual punishment.'' If successful, the case could cap prison populations. If prison populations were capped, of course more facilities would be necessary. Schwarzenegger has indicated that he may declare a state of emergency in the prisons, allowing him to impose measures, such as shipping inmates to other states or re-opening mothballed prison facilities. Story from MercuryNews.com. . . [Michele Berry]
July 09, 2006
Boston Debates on How to Stop Increasing Youth Violence
From boston.com: With the dramatic rise in shootings in Boston in recent years, the percentage of victims who are teenagers has skyrocketed, according to new statistics. In the first four months of 2006, 45 percent of non fatal gunshot wound victims were under the age of 20 compared with 35 percent last year, 34 percent in 2004, and 20 percent in 2003, figures from the state Department of Public Health show.
As Boston officials rush to fund programs, hoping to stop bloodshed in a summer that many fear will be the most violent in years, community leaders, police, and others involved in crime prevention are arguing about how the bulk of the money should be spent. Some say more of it should go toward youth programs that could steer young people away from lives of crime, while others say programs aimed directly at known offenders should be emphasized.
Most agree that both approaches have advantages and drawbacks. Funding for prevention programs aimed at youth ``reduces crime in the long run, and that's a goal people everywhere share; however, it doesn't do much to prevent crime in the short run," said Richard Rosenfeld, a professor of criminology at the University of Missouri at St. Louis. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
July 25, 2005
Budget Troubles in Colorado
From DenverPost.com: Denver: "The (Denver Community Court), which started in 2003 as a pilot project, will run out of city money by 2006...The court takes cases involving juveniles in seven northeast Denver neighborhoods...who get tickets for small violations such as shoplifting, vandalism or school fighting. It redirects the cases from regular juvenile court to the neighborhoods where the crimes occur. Since its inception, the court has applied community-building and problem-solving techniques to more than 1,000 juvenile cases....[T]he court doesn't just punish, but also prevents crime through community service, literacy and substance-abuse programs. And it gives kids the chance to right what they did wrong. 'If you bust up Miss Jones' fence, we get hammers and nails and fix Miss Jones' fence,' Johnson (the court's community service coordinator) said." Story...
Fort Collins and Northglenn: These "[t]wo financially strapped Colorado cities are using a new budget system that turns services such as police protection into products and transforms city councils into wary customers....(Due to $8 million budgetary cuts and shrinking tax bases, both cities have adopted) the "Budgeting for Outcomes" approach...(having) abandoned the standard approach of budgeting, which usually focuses on regular yearly increases for services and departments...The new approach - developed by a consortium of former city managers and school superintendents - calls for cities to link goals to funding, ensuring budgets stay stable....A city may set a certain goal, such as a low crime rate, and then ask departments to meet that goal based on spending limits. Departments then come back with offers on how to meet the goal - more police foot patrols or better lighting for parks - with hopes of winning funding"..."'It's a lesson in salesmanship'...(and) 'survival of the fittest.'" Story... [Mark Godsey]
June 23, 2005
Iowa to Use Microsoft Settlement to Fight Crime
Iowa will use its $2 million share of the settlement in the Microsoft antitrust suit to upgrade DNA labs and buy more patrol cars. [Mark Godsey]
June 10, 2005
Jackson Trial A Financial Boon, Peterson A Bust
The town of Santa Maria has hit a homerun financially with the Michael Jackson trial. With all the extra tax money brought in by the crowds, the town will be able to finally do things such as fix pot holes and buy new library books. One small business owner near the courthouse plans to buy a new BMW with the windfall that has come her way in recent weeks. The situation of Santa Maria stands in contrast to the locales that were involved in the Scott Peterson trial. Stanislaus County, where the crime occurred, and San Mateo County, where the trial was held, initially competed over the right to host the trial perhaps because they thought they would enjoy a similar financial windfall. As the costs of the 5-month trial began soaring into the millions, however, San Mateo, which ultimately hosted the trial, came back and sued Stanislaus for a share of the costs. Stanislaus County recently ponied up, settling the lawsuit and ending the dispute. Perhaps going forward counties in California should have "celebrity trial consulstants" on staff so that when a murder occurs they can determine whether they should host the trial or allow it to be passed off to some neighboring locale. [Mark Godsey]
February 10, 2005
Arizona Bills Feds For Cost of Incarcerating Convicted Illegal Aliens
From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer: "Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano has billed the federal government for nearly $118 million in unreimbursed costs for imprisoning criminal illegal immigrants. If the federal government doesn't pay, it should take custody of approximately 3,600 illegal immigrants in state prisons, Napolitano said in a letter sent last week to U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. 'This is just wrong,' Napolitano said in a statement Tuesday. 'Arizona has held up its end of the bargain, and has taken these criminals off the streets. Yet the federal government has abandoned its job by refusing to pay for them.'" Full story . . . [Mark Godsey]