Paying for the Privilege of Punishment, Part I

EKU Online > Paying for the Privilege of Punishment, Part I

By: Betsy Matthews

In this two-part series, EKU Online coordinator and associate professor Dr. Betsy Matthews explored the affect that fees have on those on parole.

Part I: Parole Involves Re-Adjusting to Society  . . . and Worrying about Fees

In my last couple of years as a probation officer, we instituted a supervision fee in our county. So, on top of collecting restitution, fines, and court fees, I was now tasked with collecting supervision fees. I remember being told to present the fees to clients as “payment for the privilege of being on community supervision rather than in prison.” Trying to collect money from people who have none is difficult to say the least. Conversations about money strain the relationship between a probation officer and his/her clients, and shift the focus away from the real work of probation officers – providing clients with the assistance and support needed to successfully complete their terms of probation.

80 percent of the women interviewed identified their financial situation as somewhat or very problematic.

Not long ago, I was again reminded of my distaste for probation/parole supervision fees. As part of a service learning course, I, along with several colleagues and students, conducted interviews with women who had recently been released from prison or jail. During hour long interviews we asked them about their experiences in prison and about the challenges they faced as they tried to reintegrate to their communities. Common problems for these women included adjusting to their role in the family, avoiding antisocial peer groups, and fighting the stigma associated with the “ex-con” or “felon” label. The biggest challenge they faced, however, was economic: Eighty percent of the women interviewed identified their financial situation as somewhat (16%) or very (64%) problematic; sixty percent reported an income of $10,000 or less; and forty percent identified finding employment as the primary threat to their success on parole. 

During these interviews many of the women also talked about having to pay a parole supervision fee of $30 per month. Three of the women that I personally interviewed implied that, because of this fee, they were bound to violate their parole, either by failing to pay the fee or by doing something illegal to get the money needed to cover the fee (i.e., prostitution, selling drugs, absconding supervision). Now, I know that there are policies in place that prohibit violating someone’s parole for the legitimate inability to pay, but these women didn’t seem to be aware of those policies and they were genuinely worried about their fate. 

Questions to Consider:

  • How do you view these fees?
  • What purpose do they serve?
  • Do they put too much additional pressure on clients?
  • Is the revenue generated worth the unintended consequences?

Dr. Betsy Matthews’ work focuses on community corrections and correctional rehabilitation. She began her career as a child care worker in a residential treatment facility for behaviorally disordered adolescents before moving into an adult probation officer position in Greene County, Ohio. After earning her master’s degree, Dr. Matthews accepted a position with the American Probation and Parole Association, serving as a research associate on federally funded grant projects.

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