Exploring Supervision Fees In Four Probation Jurisdictions in Texas

This report by the University of Minnesota’s Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice presents  findings from a qualitative study examining the interaction between probation outcomes and probation fees in Texas. Researchers conducted interviews with over 50 probation officers and 46 probationers in 4 Texas probation jurisdictions. From these interviews, researchers reached several conclusions about how fees affect people on probation and their families, the collection process, and the problematic effects of funding probation departments through fees.   

You can read the full text of the report here

Key Findings
  • “Many probationers believed they would be revoked for not paying fees, even though the probation officers we interviewed stated that revocations for nonpayment rarely or never happened.”
  • “Some officers in this sample said they used revocation as a tactic to coerce payment and some probationers in this sample reported having been threatened with revocation for nonpayment. “
  • “Officers often mentioned feeling like ‘glorified bill collectors.’ At times, some felt that collections took away from the time that they could spend addressing other rehabilitative issues. They said that rehabilitative issues were still addressed, but the time on these issues was balanced against time spent trying to get probationers to pay.”
Key Interview Excerpts

From probation officers: 

  • “Well, we’re all dependent on probation fees in Texas. We just are. In our department, you know, we have multiple budgets but at least 40% or between 40% and 60% of our combined budgets comes in probation fees depending on what month we’re looking at. So, we’d have to get rid of half of our employees, that’s what happened, to be quite honest.”
  • “They’ll stop coming in if they don’t have a payment. Sometimes they’ll run, thinking they’re going to go to jail for not having their payment.”

From probationers: 

  • “I do without sometimes. I pick and choose what I eat. When I’ve worked in fast food I’ll take home what we didn’t use. Get on the ramen noodle diet. Get a box of 12 for 2 dollars. . . . Don’t buy shoes. Don’t buy extra clothes. I need two hearing aids. I’ve been taking the money I have saved up for hearing aids to pay for this [probation fees].”
  • “I lapsed on my payments and went to jail to try and renew another contract. So, got another three years. Didn’t make it that time as well. I think I was $175 dollars short. And [probation] sent me to jail again and re-did my probation all over again for another five years.”
Ebony L. Ruhland, Jason P. Robey, Ronald P. Corbett, Jr., and Kevin R. Reitz
Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice