BBA President Deb Manus of Nutter LLP issued the following statement today:
The issue of unjust and counter-productive fines and fees imposed on people on parole or probation was back in the news in recent weeks, after Governor Baker released his Fiscal Year 2023 budget proposal, which included a plan to end them. As the Boston Globe’s article at the time noted, the BBA spoke out on this issue in its 2017 report No Time to Wait, calling for a halt to such fines and fees — which fall disproportionately upon those who can least afford them and who are “facing the greatest obstacles to successful reentry and the greatest risk of recidivism”.
Today, the Globe followed up with an editorial embracing that position and quoting extensively from our report:
This regressive ‘tax’ should go
… “Raising state revenue from convicted individuals and their families who are too poor to pay is counter-productive,” a Boston Bar Association report released in 2017 found. “Scraping together enough money to pay these types of fees reduces household income and ‘compel[s] people living on very tight budgets to choose between food, medicine, rent, child support, and legal debt,’ ” the report noted, quoting from a research paper aptly titled “Drawing Blood from Stones.”
The bar association report also noted that failure to pay those fees can lead to what it called “the most Draconian consequence” — a default ruling that lands a probationer or parolee back in prison in the vicious cycle that can be the criminal justice system.
The BBA report, which identified some 20 different court fees and fines that can be assessed in Massachusetts, noted they “are a minuscule part of the [state] budget and operate as a regressive tax on individuals who are too poor to pay.” A number of legislative committees and commissions of years past have agreed.
While the landmark 2018 reform bill made great strides, including incremental progress on fines and fees, we are pleased that this left-over issue is getting renewed attention — and that our work is being cited in support. We urge the Legislature to include the proposal in its own budget bills, so that, as our report stated, “Parole and probation officers [can] focus on helping those under their supervision succeed, not on collecting money from them.”