By Andy Metzger
STATE HOUSE NEWS
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
"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
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
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
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
In public speeches, Gants has also questioned the fees imposed
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
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
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
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.