Right now, scores of Americans are paying for the privilege of being under probation or parole supervision — and many of them are at the risk of being further entrenched in the justice system and even locked up if they fail to meet their financial obligations.
A new report published Tuesday by the Fines and Fees Justice Center and the Reform Alliance shows that most states have laws on the books allowing people on probation or parole to be charged a “supervision fee,” separate from all the other “programming” fees a person may have to cover for costs associated with drug testing, counseling, classes, electronic monitoring, and more.
Those supervision fees, which range from a flat fee to $10 per month to over $208 per month for probationers or parolees, can come with penalties if a person is unable to pay. Thirty-two states allow for a person’s probation to be revoked or extended over unpaid fees, according to the report. A person on parole, meanwhile, can face revocation in 30 states, and be unable to get off parole until outstanding fees are paid in at least 16 states.
“‘Probation and parole should be supporting people who are trying to re-enter their communities and to become good neighbors and good citizens.’”
“States should prohibit charging probation and parole supervision fees and should prohibit the imposition of fees or costs related to programming or services that are conditions of probation or parole,” the report authored by the advocacy groups argues. “The imposition of fees related to probation and parole are contrary to the interests of justice.”
Because the fees differ from state to state and county to county, it can be a bit difficult to tell how much the average person might pay — though it’s pretty likely the fees are a widely shared experience among people in the criminal justice system. Nearly 4 million Americans were on probation or parole at the end of 2020, according to government data, or approximately 1 in 66 of all adult residents.
The people living under the conditions of probation and parole are disproportionately Black due to the historic over-incarceration of people of color in the U.S.
“Probation and parole should be supporting people who are trying to re-enter their communities and to become good neighbors and good citizens,” Tim Curry, research director at the Fines and Fees Justice Center, said. “But when they’re saddled with things that make it hard or impossible for them to accomplish the goals set by probation or parole, no one wins. The fees that we’re attaching have nothing to do with accountability.”
“They are purely regressive taxes assigned to a certain segment of our community to pay for government services,” he added.