Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Florida’s Criminal Criminal Justice System.

May 21, 2019 by  
Filed under Business, Money, News, Opinion, Politics, Weekly Columns

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( Author and Deputy Director of the Justice Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, Rebekah Diller, states in The Hidden Costs of Florida’s Criminal Justice Fees, “Since 1996, Florida added more than 20 new categories of financial obligations for criminal defendants and, at the same time, eliminated most exemptions for those who cannot pay.” (p.1). These payments are not only mandatory but failure to do so can lead to new offenses, although if one is not able to make payments there is an option to pay through community service, but most courts do not have any programs in place to use this alternative measure. These new categories created are called legal financial obligations or LFOs for short and the fees range from a $40 application fee for a legal defender in 1996, a $15 surcharge imposed for criminal traffic violations in 2004, in 2005 this fee became non-waivable, $60 court cost for misdemeanors and $225 for felonies in 2008, the required cost of prosecution with a minimum of $50 for misdemeanors and $100 for felonies for those convicted regardless if you are able to pay or not in 2008, in 2009, traffic violation surcharges increased to $30 and it became mandatory if fees such as service charges, fines, court costs, etc. are left unpaid after 90 days to be given to a private attorney or collection agent.

These fines are another measure of punishment for convicted offenders. To also cover the cost of punishment, fees placed against those under correctional control also include: medical care, room and board costs, probation supervision, substance abuse treatments, electronic monitoring, urinalysis, and if you enter into a privately owned treatment facility, these fees can include those listed above as well as service costs and attendance cost although your attendance is a required condition of probation. Also, if a defendant cannot pay the public defender application fee it is added “… as part of sentencing or a condition of probation.”(p. 7). It has been noted that although these funds are supposed to be collected and redistributed within the court system, it has been shown that “… the legislature directs that the money be divided between an emergency medical services trust fund, the statewide crime lab system, and a brain and spinal cord injury rehabilitation trust fund.” (p.8). The issue with all of this is that those who cannot pay due to poverty or unemployment are obviously more than likely to be stuck in a cycle of indebtedness to the state and the prison doors becoming revolving.

Studies have shown how difficult it is for those with a record, violent or nonviolent, to receive a job once released from prison and/or on parole. For example, Race at Work: Realities of Race and Criminal Record in the NYC Job Market in 2005, highlighted the fact that in Figure two, a white job applicant with a felony received more hiring opportunities than the black applicant without a felony. To relate this back to Florida, where the state population of blacks was at 16% in 2010 but the population of blacks in prison or jail in the same year is 46%, imagine their job perspective or the lack thereof. Now also, include the amount of bills they will have once released with no job perspective and if they have children, the amount of back pay in child support also held against them, to even imagine yourself if such a predicament feels suffocating alone, but as you enter into the probation period the price increases.

A table made by studying Leon County Household Expenses, shows that an average monthly cost for a single adult without dependants is $1,530, including taxes, housing, food, transportation, healthcare and miscellaneous. Also using the average monthly income based upon the FDC 2005 findings for those on probation or other types of community supervision, which was also adjusted to fit the dollar’s worth in 2010, at the time it was written, was $1,559. If the individual’s owed the LFOs $75 per month, that could eat up “almost 60% of monthly health care expenses” (p.11) if the price was instead $100 then it would dissolve 77% of the person’s health care budget.

Another example given is Harold Branning’s experience with LFOs. Once released from prison in August of 2007, he was faced with owing “more than $7,000 in court fines, fees, and restitution.” (p.12). His monthly payments were set at $250 monthly and later increased to $391. An organization called House of Hope was how he was able to continue to make payments, they provide job trainings and placements, partially subsidized room and board, and more with $200 a month for rent and $120 a month for food. A not so fortunate example, is that of Bernard Brown’s experience which consisted of paying for electronic monitoring, drug testing, treatment programs, etc., he was on a conditional release supervision but went back because he was not able to pay $312,41 towards supervision fees. “Brown’s court record shows that when he obtained full-time employment, he earned only $1044 per month.” Once re-incarcerated he was able to receive relief from federal court by submitting a petition.

Due to the issue of making payments some counties in Florida, “including Highlands, Leon, Orange, Sarasota, and S. Lucie- have established specialized “collection courts” to handle payment plans.” (p. 15) . These courts operate as pay or appear, where the defendant has not been able to make payments by the payment deadline but appear to court to give a reason as to why. One example of the outcomes shown is between a judge and Mr. S over a driver’s license suspension. Mr. S’s licence has been suspended for five years and he is self employed but needs his licence to perform his job which is why he is out of work and cannot make payments, his cases cost aout $900. While looking for a temporary job, he realizes they also need for him to also reinstate his licence. The judge’s solution for this is to send him to jail for twelve days to clear his debt. The solution is to return him back to the revolving door that is prison that will clear his past debt but might add another charge once he is re-released.

Fast forward to today, where dependent on the crime previously committed, once released you still are stripped of your basic rights as citizens such as voting. Convicted felons prior to November 2018 were not able to be voting citizens in Florida, but after hear the ecstatic news, conditions were attached with high costs, making this still very problematic. Once Amendment 4 went into effect January 8th, states that most people convicted of felonies in the state will have their right to vote restored “after they complete all terms of their sentence including parole or probation.” Even if your case is labeled under that status as ‘closed’ that does not mean that all of the attached terms have been completed, thus you still cannot perform your civic duty. Monroe County Supervisor of Elections Joyce Griffin said in the article written for the Fines and Fees Justice Center that “You could have committed a felony in 1940, and think you’ve paid all your fines, but you didn’t pay a fine,”. Miami-Dade State attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle states that “this should not be a fear factor”, but in her county alone there is an outstanding balance of over $278 million in court fines relating to felony convictions, only going back as far as the year 2000.

The indebtedness within the court and criminal system is another layer of imprisonment even if you’re released back into society. The invisible chains placed upon imprisoned bodies is never actually released because there is a trail of court fees, fines, and debt collectors ready to threaten you with more physical imprisonment if you cannot pay. This is how recidivism has been created and allowed to happen because the government and states use these bodies through the physical labor they are able to extract but also the financial labor or debt that they are able to place upon these bodies and sell to collectors.


Race at Work – Realities of Race and Criminal Record in the NYC Job Market by Devah Pager and Bruce Western

Staff Writer; Vyonna Etheleau

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