Inherently Unstable: The History and Future of Reliance on Court-Imposed Fees in the State of Texas

In this article, Todd Jermstad argues that relying on court-imposed fines, fees, and costs to fund the court system is not financially feasible. The first part of this text chronicles the history of probation and the assessment of court-ordered fines, fees, and costs on probationers in Texas, including some legislative reforms that further destabilized the system’s funds. Subsequent sections discuss the Collection Improvement Program (CIP), changes in Texas income levels since 1980 (coinciding with heavy reliance on court fees), and the potential adverse impacts of new technologies on people placed on probation. The author concludes the article with recommendations to reduce the court system’s reliance on fines and fees.   

You can read the full text of the article here.

Key findings
  • In 1987, Texas legislation mandated a probation fee of not less than $25 and not more than $40.
  • Legislative changes to probation in 1989 and 1991 increased the number of conditions, costs, and fees a trial judge could impose on a probationer, further increasing fee revenue reliance.
  • As of June 2019, the Bell/Lampasas Counties Community Supervision and Corrections Department draws about half of its funds from fees paid by probationers.
  • Despite testimony by the Director of the Texas Office of Court Administration noting a decrease in the number of warrants for failure to appear, failure to pay, and cases resolved through jail time, among other positive signs, there continues to be resistance to offset the reliance on court-imposed fees and costs.
  • At least 75 percent of the employed probationer population in Bell and Lampasas Counties have occupations whose wages have stagnated or declined in the last three decades and will likely continue to stagnate or decline.
  • The state of Texas should gradually assume a greater financial obligation for funding community supervision and corrections departments.
  • Court-imposed fines, fees, and costs should be tailored to the economic circumstances of the individual.
  • Adult probation departments in Texas must decrease costs, improve productivity, or both, assuming that there will be no additional revenues (such as state appropriations or offender fees) to support the system. 
Todd Jermstad, Bell/Lampasas Counties Community Supervision and Corrections Department  
Federal Probation: A Journal of Correctional Philosophy and Practice