Needing two-thirds (70 votes) to get through the House of Representatives, because it imposes a fee, this peculiar pay-raise bill got 72. Bi-partisan supporters (see below) include six who are sponsoring bills that contradict the impact of this bill. Some legislators questioned: why didn't it go through the typical budget process? How to deal with other state workers seeking their own raise? And how the money would actually process from the pockets of people under supervision into the pockets of the officers? Good questions for the Senate Committee it is assigned to.
Consider some things the legislators did not know, during debate: First, people are already paying more in fees than the statutory maximum of $63 under R.S. §574.4.2.A.(2)(e). People pay between $67 - $68.50, depending on what process they use to pay the fee. People don’t pay the parole officer, instead they pay a collections agency (Fieldware, LLC) based in Chicago. Fieldware uses typical collection agency practices, such as pretending to actually be the Department of Probation and Parole, calling during dinner time and on weekend mornings.
When asked a straightforward accounting of how the payments would convert to the “retention” of parole officers (i.e. pay raises), the bill sponsor, Lance Harris, did not know. Few Representatives likely know that Fieldware is exceeding state law by collecting two fees, exceeding $63/month. What is to keep Fieldware, LLC from charging $110 if this were to pass?
What if someone can’t pay? “They work it out,” Representative Lance Harris repeatedly responded to that repeated question. This is what was said in Committee. What actually happens is this becomes a lifetime tab, the fee is never reduced, and there is no “ability to pay” assessment. There is no sliding scale, as perhaps the fees for your child’s summer camp, based on your income. So what happens at the end of parole if the fees are not paid? Some stories include a judge extending supervision, others involve a judge waiving the fees and settling the debt. It is unclear, however, what happens over the course of a decade, when nearly a million people will have been under community supervision.
Previously, the parole officers had no personal incentive in collecting the supervision fees. With each parolee being worth a potential $37/month to their department, someone with a caseload of 200 could potentially collect $7200/month. How will this impact parole officer behavior? It remains to be seen.
How will the money transfer?
The state predicts the fee hike will generate $926,554. With 31,000 people on parole, they conservatively estimate each person will pay an additional $30/year of the additional $444 owed. Or more realistically, they figure that 2,085 of the people on parole will pay the full $100/month, while the rest will not. This may be true. However, consider a fee, imposed upon everyone, which only 6% of the people can actually pay. And these are people paying under duress, likely paying more money than they actually have to realistically put towards this bill. And what of the other 94%?
The bill was amended to apply only to those people who are employed, as determined by the parole officers. Interestingly, this amendment did not change the fiscal note at all (which may say more about how accurately the Legislative staff can anticipate fiscal impact). If merely a few dozen more people, based on the increased stress this causes, return to prison: this wipes out the $926k raised by the state.
There are 71,002 people under community supervision, according to the DOC’s latest public report. 40,000 people are on probation, and 31,000 people on parole. A plea is offered and accepted in roughly 95% of all cases, and these officers of the courts can dispense of five or ten of these in an hour. They result in thousands of dollars in court costs, restitution, and fees.
The 31,000 people on parole are overwhelmingly out early based on the programming accomplished during incarceration. 60% are Black and 12% are women. This Good Time Parole Supervision (GTPS) allows people who stay out of trouble and finish rehabilitative programming to convert about a third of their prison time into parole time. Unlike many other states, the time isn’t shaved off completely, in Louisiana (the national prison leader) the time earned is parole time. This is also done by exchanging work wages into parole time; thus, a parolee is likely to be released without even a few hundred dollars saved up- as it is understandable to focus solely on release.
Roughly 75% of people under community supervision committed either a drug or property crime. Someone on parole may have done this years ago. These crimes are often committed by people in poverty. Most people on GTPS will be on it for 3-10 years. Nearly as many people are over 50 years old as under 30.
Every year, thousands of people complete community supervision while thousands new people take their place. Over a million Louisianans have been through some form of this process. Although this bill is aimed at people on parole, it is likely to apply to people on probation next. Currently, courts can sentence people to pay between $60-100 already, in addition to other monthly fees.
Who are the Parole Officers?
The DOC workers demanding a raise “for retention and recruitment” claim too many of them leave for higher paying jobs. The starting wage is close to the “Fight for $15” rate, at $30k per year, and tops out at $62k, with health insurance and retirement. For nearly all of us, there is always a higher paying job option, even a banking executive can be lured to somewhere else on Wall Street.
Officers often have over 150 cases each; some have said over 200. WIth hundreds of cases closing each year, and hundreds more beginning, the typical time associated in between can only be a matter of minutes per month. If parole officer spent an hour per month with the person they monitor, and twenty minutes between each, they could reasonably meet with six per day, 25 per week, or 100 per month. Typically, one day per week is Similar to the jobs of public defender, prosecutor and judge: the people just keep coming and the paperwork can barely keep up. Drive-Thru Justice is the only option.
These officers monitor mistakes as they become known to them. They do not offer proactive support. The officers may provide a list of “service providers” to seek help with housing, mental health, job training or addiction, but the list is inevitably short- and those providers are consistently under-resourced. Helping Louisianans transform their lives into stable pieces of our interconnected society is generally an anti-poverty campaign. It requires public education, public housing, and public health campaigns.
While the parole officers arrived in uniform for two hearings in the House of Representatives, not a single officer showed support for the bills that would support the people on probation and parole. These other hearings were going on all around them, and address parts of the many hurdles faced by people with a criminal record.
For example, they might be familiar with the people who are barred from federal food stamps for a year following their conviction on a drug crime. Many of the mothers, even those who were on SNAP when sentenced to probation would lose support for their children. The officers demanded a pay raise, yet not food for children of the people they monitor.
Some politicians are sending contradicting messages
Representative Tanner Magee, who voted for people on probation and parole to foot the pay raise, also put in bills that would (1) create positive reforms to probation and parole, and (2) mandate “ability to pay” assessments on fines and fees. Yet as he may see in this bill, “ability to pay” is merely a lifetime assessment, and has no bearing on one’s current financial situation. Rep. Magee may wonder why the officers did not show up to support those bills, that would reduce the strain on the people, yet showed up in uniform to get a raise.
Representative Joe Marino, who voted for the pay raise, also sponsored a bill that would suspend child support payments after someone has been incarcerated for over 90 days. As someone who values the need to reduce stress created by insurmountable debts, he may have wondered why the officers were not also in support of his bill that would provide relief for the parents (and their children) who are on parole.
Representative Julie Emerson, who voted for people on parole to pay $105/month, was a victorious sponsor of a bill last year that Banned the Box on unclassified state jobs, and continued her work this year with a licensing bill that will also help reduce barriers for people with a record looking for work. She may have wondered why the officers were not in the May 3rd Civil Service Commission hearing that successfully banned the box on ALL state jobs; or wondered why the officers did not show up for the licensing bill. These officers might have powerful contributions regarding the challenging job searches by the people they monitor. But they only showed up in uniform, holsters at their side, to raise the fees by 50%.
Representative Steve Pylant, who voted for the fee increase, also sponsored bills to (1) increase take home pay for people in Work Release, and (2) create needle exchange programs to push the dire need for prioritizing public health in the face of heroin usage and communicable diseases. Rep. Pylant may wonder why the officers were not in his hearings, particularly so people coming from Work Release would be in better position to pay the higher fees when moving onto parole. Yet they showed up by the dozens for their own pay increase at the expense of the people they monitor.
Representative Sherman Mack, the chairman on the Administration of Criminal Justice Committee and supporter of this bill to increase fees to $100 (plus $5 fee), has been instrumental in moving several Justice Reinvestment Task Force recommended bills through his committee. He may have wondered why the Officers stood by with nothing to say on bills that would support the people who struggle on probation and parole, and only offered an opinion where it came to the fees being increased and transferred to their own paychecks.
Representative Franklin Foil, who supported the fee increase, also sponsored a bill that would mandate the police issue a summons for misdemeanors and low-level crimes, with the discretion to arrest when the situation calls for it. With over half of the new entries to prison coming from the 71,000 people on community supervision, he may have wondered why the officers were not in his hearing offering insights on the low-level criminal activity (that disproportionately results in prison time) by the people they monitor. The officers were crowded throughout the hallways, yet not to be seen on any bills of this kind- except to increase the fees on the people they monitor.
Representative Sam Jenkins, the lone member of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus, supported the fee increase, which passed by two votes. With roughly 3500 people under supervision in his district, the majority of whom are Black, with families who vote. It is an interesting vote to cast.
Stay tuned, as this bill will be likely assigned to a committee on Monday.
What else is happening this week in Baton Rouge?
The infamous Juvenile Life Without Parole bill, passed the Senate and a committee in the House, will be heard by the full House. If it passes, the last stop is the Governor’s desk. Although people worked hard to get parole eligibility down from the inhumane 35 years to a still higher than the Southern average (25 years), it isn’t an automatic for nearly 300 people waiting for the Miller v. Alabama ruling to apply to them. The state’s #1 legislators (District Attorneys) successfully pushed for an amendment that would allow them to claim any or all of the 300 are the “worst of the worst,” and seek for JLWOP to be re-imposed following a hearing.
Also on the House floor will be:
On the Senate floor:
Senate Bills 139, 220, 221 (Senate; Monday @4 pm): The cornerstone bills underlying the Justice Reinvestment package are scheduled for the Senate floor. Please call and email your senator to ask them to support criminal justice reform.
Still in Committee:
HEALTH and WELFARE (Room 5):
CRIMINAL JUSTICE (Room 6):
Keep up to date with VOTE's Bill Tracker web page.